Sophisti-Pop is a subgenre of Alternative Rock and an umbrella term that describes the numerous bands whose sound was very lavish and "sophisticated". The genre can best be described as New Wave Music with a heavy jazz-rock influence, particularly from Steely Dan and latter-day Roxy Music, whose final album Avalon is widely considered the Trope Maker for the genre.
While Avalon came out in 1982, the sophisti-pop craze truly kicked off the following year, when The Blue Nile released A Walk Across the Rooftops. The album displayed some of the most technically advanced production of its day, to the point where its UK release was handled by the record label division of Scottish audiophile brand Linn Products. Both Avalon and A Walk Across the Rooftops featured soulful singing, jazzy chords, touchy lyrics about love and heartache, and (probably most importantly) the highest production of synthesizers a band could afford, all of which would become hallmarks of sophisti-pop. In part due to the genre's origins, most of its major players hailed from either Scotland or the north of England (Sade, formed in London and fronted by a Nigerian singer, are the major exception).
One thing that helped jumpstart sophisti-pop's popularity and encourage its growth was the Compact Disc, an audiophile-oriented format which made its international debut (following an early Japanese launch) just one month before A Walk Across the Rooftops. The CD's clarity and lack of surface noise complimented sophisti-pop's lavish production values, making albums in the genre popular demonstration titles for CD players and other high-end audio equipment among dealers. It became a joke among critics that this was the primary purpose of sophisti-pop albums.
There can be a large number of different things going on at once in this type of music that can fly over a listener's head and the matter of seconds. The music is full of subtle touches in melody and chord changes that take multiple listens to really notice and appreciate. Artists in this genre have a tendency to lean towards perfectionism. While bands like Simply Red had no problem releasing albums within 2 years of each other, bands like Sade and The Blue Nile can take as long as 5 years just to complete an album. Expect lots of Troubled Productions and song transformations. Also, a lot of these songs are played way different live than they are in the studio.
The genre died out in the early 1990s, and was one of many genres that were prominent on early Alternative Rock radio that were completely eradicated from playlists once Grunge took hold of the airwaves. Many artists remained active well into the 2000s: Sting stripped out the jazzier elements of his sound while keeping the rest of his production style intact, Simply Red continued to tour and write albums until their breakup in 2010, Prefab Sprout is active from time to time as a solo project of its lead singer, Sade continues to seduce people with their sexy music, and the Blue Nile continues to take up to 8 years to record an album.
For genre highlights, The Beautiful South's Welcome to the Beautiful South and 0898 Beautiful South, The Blue Nile's Hats and A Walk Across the Rooftops, Prefab Sprout's Steve McQueen, Simply Red's Stars, and Sade's Diamond Life and Love Deluxe are all considered masterpieces.
The genre helped pave way for many Indie Pop bands in the future, creating the idea of high production values and the use of synths in the music. While not exactly an Alternative Rock genre, some bands like the Beautiful South later branched out into adding alternative elements to their songs. The 2010s would also mark a stealth revival of sophisti-pop, owed to its rough Japanese counterpart, City Pop, unexpectedly seeing a surge in online popularity in the west. In the wake of this, indie pop artists like The 1975 and Carly Rae Jepsen added elements of both styles to their music, and elements of the two would appear in many additional pop songs during the turn of the 2020s, especially amongst British artists such as Clean Bandit and Ellie Goulding.
Artists part of this movement include:
Original era (1980-1990)
- ABC (from 1985 on)
- The Adventures
- Herb Alpert (on his album Keep Your Eye On Me and the song "Devils Ball," a collaboration with the band Double)
- Aztec Camera
- The Beautiful South
- The Blow Monkeys
- The Blue Nile
- Breathe (who performed a lighter version of the genre that was basically soft rock with new wave elements)
- China Crisis
- Curiosity Killed The Cat
- Danny Wilson
- Deacon Blue
- Donald Fagen, lead singer of Steely Dan, arguably the single most influential act on the entire genre.
- 1982 - The Nightfly
- The Dream Academy
- Everything but the Girl (pre-Todd Terry remix of "Missing")
- Go West
- Joe Jackson
- Grace Jones
- Hue And Cry
- The Human League (on Crash and Romantic?; overlaps with New Jack Swing on the former)
- Johnny Hates Jazz
- Kane Gang
- Level 42
- Living In A Box
- The Lotus Eaters
- Matt Bianco
- Nick Heyward
- Prefab Sprout
- Roxy Music acted as the Trope Maker in the waning days of their career. Also a big influence on the other artists on this list.
- Scritti Politti (Although their early singles tend toward Post-Punk)
- Simply Red
- Sting (primarily on his first three albums; overlaps with art pop during this period)
- The Style Council
- Swing Out Sister
- Then Jerico (which blended elements of this genre with Arena Rock)
- Tanita Tikaram
- Thomas Dolby (on The Flat Earth; Also produced three Prefab Sprout albums)
- Thompson Twins
- When In Rome
Revival acts (2000 onwards)
- The 1975 (on their second and third albums)
- Alfred Garcia
- Arctic Monkeys (on their sixth album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino)
- Blood Orange
- Carly Rae Jepsen (on her third album and its accompanying EP)
- Chairlift (on their final album Something)
- Christine and the Queens
- Destroyer (mostly on Kaputt)
- Ice Choir
- Pure Bathing Culture
- Roman A Clef