CREEP SHOW is an electronic meeting of minds between eclectic US singer / songwriter John Grant and the dark analogue electro of WRANGLER, the trio comprising Stephen Mallinder, Phil Winter and Benge.
Brought together for the Rough Trade 40th Anniversary celebrations in 2016, the first fruit of this collaboration is ‘Mr Dynamite’ – an album which was recorded in Cornwall following the move of Benge’s Memetune studio from its original Hoxton location.
Opening with the title track, ‘Mr Dynamite’ sees Grant’s vocal cut-up, pitch-changed and split over different keys on a vintage AKAI sampler.
This is then laid over a minimalist drum machine, bass pulse and a signature John Grant synth lead.
‘Modern Parenting’ sees a hybrid of funky bass synth and echoed sequenced synths with a typical quirky Grant vocal. The addition of female backing vocals give the overall impression of TALKING HEADS ditching their guitars and going fully electronic instead; the surreal chorus hook of “when your doggy jumps the fence and sets its sights on you” also adds to the playful, funky nature of the track.
‘Tokyo Metro’ is a KRAFTWERK-inspired 8-bit Chip-Tune style piece, the vocodered vocal very reminiscent of ‘Dentaku’, their Japanese version of ‘Pocket Calculator’.
‘Endangered Species’ is a chilled glitchy piece with a floaty string synth; the track also gives Grant a chance to go into his full-on crooner mode and take a squealing lead synth solo. The song ramps up a level with the unexpected addition of CULTURE CLUB’s original backing vocalists Mary Pearce, Maria Q and Zee Asher; having originally toured with Grant, they give the slightly creepy “You are the endangered species” hook a brilliantly quirky resonance. For those familiar with Grant’s work, the nearest comparison here would be his solo tracks ‘Voodoo Doll’ and ‘Black Belt’; the ones where he mixes vitriol and downright bitchiness…
On the final two lengthy tracks ‘Fall’ and ‘Safe & Sound’, the band go full-on KRAFTWERK and GIORGIO MORODER; the songs are given room to breathe and reveal themselves gradually with some wonderfully warmly melodic synth parts. On ‘Fall’, there are tiny slithers of voices which float over the instrumental backing and on ‘Safe & Sound’, Grant reins in the quirkiness to deliver a hazy vibrato-filled vocal.
‘Mr Dynamite’ is a really fresh and uncontrived sounding album, it’s not over-produced and comes across as a piece of work that all involved had a real blast making. It would have been interesting if the band had pursued the sound of the final track a little further though. There still remains a gaping hole in the market for retro synthesizer-based tracks featuring a real vocalist, not just someone that’s appears to have been drafted in as an afterthought (see: some underperforming UK-based synth acts).
The CREEP SHOW album really plays to the combined strengths of WRANGLER and John Grant; the latter’s vocals being the icing on the proverbial electronic cake and ensuring the listener will undoubtedly reacquaint themselves with ‘Mr Dynamite’ time and time again and again.
With thanks to Danielle Carr at Bella Union
‘Mr Dynamite’ is released on 16th March 2018 by Bella Union
Text by Paul Boddy
14th March 2018, updated 16th March 2018