“Outside,” the latest single from TOPS’ upcoming Picture You Staring LP, has them engaged in a reclamation project. It’s the first song of theirs that wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack for Top Gun or a John Hughes film. The song rides on plenty of synths, a reverb heavy drum beat and an absolutely killer bassline. Jane Penny’s elegant vocals elevate the lyrics to actual heartbreak — “Thoughts of you / Running through my mind / Open door but it doesn’t feel right / You look at me as if you know what it’s like/In the shadow of a streetlight.” The guitar takes over the main riff for the final minute and, with one more chorus, the song glides to an end.
Back in the ’80s soft pop bands wrote songs for intimate moments. It was music best understood while gazing into the eyes of your lover (or Patrick Swayze). It’s no surprise then that we saw so many of these power ballads in film and TV. From overexposure and cultural fatigue, those sorts of moments became increasingly dishonest and ripe for mockery, but here TOPS manage to reinstill genuine intimacy in a form thought dead.