Author: electricityclub (Page 1 of 363)

“I don’t like country & western, I don’t like rock music… I don’t like rockabilly! I don’t like much really do I? But what I do like, I love passionately!!”: CHRIS LOWE

“Good taste is exclusive”: NICK RHODES

xPROPAGANDA The Heart Is Strange

The legend of German quartet PROPAGANDA was etched into the psyche of the music cognoscenti with the 1985 release of ‘A Secret Wish’ on ZTT, a classic of the electronic era which heralded the advent of sampling and digital synthesis.

Among its fans were Martin Gore, John Taylor and Jim Kerr; over the years, ‘A Secret Wish’ has grown in stature with its influence felt on Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’, produced by Quincy Jones. Meanwhile, the foursome of Claudia Brücken, Susanne Freytag, Ralf Dörper and Michael Mertens dubbed “ABBA in hell” were a forerunner of acts such as LADYTRON.

But it all ended acrimoniously and despite attempts to reform PROPAGANDA over the last 30 years, they have all come to nought, although the quartet performed together at the Trevor Horn celebratory concert for The Prince’s Trust in 2004, while Freytag and Dörper joined Brücken for her career retrospective show at The Scala in 2011.

More recently, Brücken and Freytag have teamed up with Stephen J Lipson, producer of ‘A Secret Wish’ and had introduced their new project as D:UEL – so it was a surprise when it was announced that the pair would be playing two London shows performing ‘A Secret Wish’ as xPROPAGANDA in 2018.

‘The Heart Is Strange’ is the first fruit of labour from xPROPAGANDA; with that classic widescreen Lipson sound, the impressive opener ‘The Night’ does not disappoint with a dancey cacophony of sequenced digitised bass, crashing beats and sweeping synthetic strings. Additional brass flourishes, orchestrated bursts and percolating percussive colours permeate over multi-minute intro before Claudia Brücken delivers a fabulous vocal.

The spacious metronomic template of ‘Chasing Utopia’ hypnotically builds with the addition of guitars from the pleasuredome and snappy live drums as Susanne Freytag provides a spoken harmony next to Brücken before an alluring German monologue and a flugelhorn solo. Although tapping with rimshot before packing a punch, ‘Beauty Is The Truth’ is more aggressive with Freytag sparring with Brücken as their contrasting styles provide the tension over the buzzy trance-laden air.

‘Only Human’ is less pacey, crossing six string strums with electronics, acting almost as a mid-album breather. However, ‘Don’t (You Mess with Me)’ provides a synthetic rock edge and a piano motif that could have come straight from the Gary Numan playbook but the end result actually comes over like ABBA although not quite in hell but more a jungle full of tigers. With an exotic swirl ‘No Ordinary Girl’ heads towards the Mystical East and is bolstered by some heavy guitar and choppy strings plus a reference to the past with a knowing “Don’t be a fool!”

A warning on the rise of the extreme right wing using Brother Grimm imagery, ‘The Wolves Are Returning’ is back to classic Lipson. It’s a bouncy driving number with another superb vocal from Brücken, an enticing middle eight phrase from Freytag and a magnificent sax solo from Terry Edwards, processed to the point of sounding like a guitar. Over 9 minutes, the cinematic closer ‘Ribbons of Steel’ provides a fitting atmospheric backdrop to showcase Susanne Freytag’s poetry. With references to The Cold War that are equally applicable to today’s world events, it’s a starker 21st Century follow-up to ‘Dream Within A Dream’ declaring “I never heard The Division Bell… I’m trapped on the wrong side, or is it the right side”.

As Brücken and Freytag summarised: “We always thought it was a shame that an album as distinctive and acclaimed as ‘A Secret Wish’ seemed destined to be a one-off. It certainly meant a lot to us, and it never seemed right that the story stopped there. Working again with Stephen Lipson and means that we can turn our dreams about what the ZTT follow up to ‘A Secret Wish’ would sound like into a reality. The reality is ‘The Heart is Strange’”.

While the distinct pop approach of ‘The Heart Is Strange’ perhaps is missing the gothic industrial spike of Ralf Dörper and the classically schooled eccentricity of Michael Mertens that added some of the character to ‘A Secret Wish’, where it does not disappoint is vocally and sonically; fans of PROPAGANDA and ZTT will relish and savour this thoughtfully crafted work.

Surpassing both the Brücken-less PROPAGANDA long player ‘1234’ and ACT’s ‘Laughter, Tears & Rage’, ‘The Heart Is Strange’ can be considered a worthy follow-up to ‘A Secret Wish’.


‘The Heart is Strange’ is released by ZTT on 20th May 2022 as in CD, 2CD, vinyl LP, red vinyl LP, Bluray audio and digital formats

xPROPAGANDA perform at The Garage in London on 24th May 2022

The ‘Secretstrange’ 2022 tour of Germany includes:
Berlin Columbia Theater (2nd November), München Schlachthof (4th November), Frankfurt Nachtleben (5th November), Bochum Zeche (6th November), Hamburg Kent Club (8th November)

https://www.xpropaganda.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/xPropagandaOfficial

https://twitter.com/_xPropaganda

https://www.instagram.com/_xpropaganda/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Jimmy King
15th May 2022

Lost Albums: NEON NEON Stainless Style

Before synthwave’s obsession with John DeLorean and the imagery of his gullwing doored DMC-12 sportscar became ubiquitous along with palm trees, VHS grids and magenta skylines, NEON NEON released a concept album about the controversial industrialist entitled ‘Stainless Style’ in 2008.

The album was the brainchild of Gruff Rhys, the frontman of Welsh rock band SUPER FURRY ANIMALS and DJ producer Boom Bip, real name Bryan Hollon. Having previously collaborated on ‘Do’s & Don’ts’ from Boom Bip’s 2005 album ‘Blue Eyed In The Red Room’, the idea for “a bonkers disco record” came up.

Originally naming themselves DELOREAN, NEON NEON began as a side project for the pair in 2006 with the specific aim of telling John DeLorean’s life story with music. It all could have come straight out of Hollywood; a successful playboy businessman blinded by greed and ego, known for his unscrupulous business practices, he hooked up with maverick Lotus F1 legend Colin Chapman to obtain £54 million in grants and subsidies from the UK government, while US celebrities such as Sammy Davis Jr, Roy Clark and Johnny Carson were among the additional private investors.

This was all under the premise of regenerating the Northern Irish city of Belfast at the height of the sectarian troubles by establishing a factory for the DeLorean Motor Company. The aim was to build a safe, economical and rustproof dream car that had 30,000 orders in the US. The orders proved to be false while using an existing Lotus-based chassis and suspension design, the stainless-steel veneered car was neither safe, fuel-efficient or reliable with the spectacular gullwing doors also causing teething problems. Quite why Colin Chapman was getting involved in engineering a direct rival to his own Lotus Espirit was a mystery.

But Chapman had a ruthless streak which he had applied in motor racing, particularly in the fragility of his cars, compromising safety over speed. The ethos had cost the lives of his top drivers Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt and Ronnie Peterson as well as seriously injuring Sterling Moss.

Chapman had reasoned that if millions in government cash was going to be given out, then Lotus may as well have some of it. Nearly £9 million disappeared, half of it via a Swiss bank account under the name of GPD which had not been declared to Lotus shareholders as an upfront profit payment in the deal while the other half passed through DeLorean’s own complex financial network.

Only 8,500 DMC-12s had been produced since 1981 as sales were poor and the company went into receivership in February 1982. While said to be attempting to raise money for ailing company, DeLorean was arrested by the FBI for cocaine smuggling in October 1982 but was acquitted after citing entrapment in August 1984; on the charges of defrauding the UK government, he managed to escape extradition! Chapman died suddenly of a heart attack in December 1982 with conspiracy theorists claiming he faked his own death as he had passed an insurance medical only days before.

In 1992, the brains behind the fraud and Chapman’s right hand man, Fred Bushell was sentenced to 3 years in prison and given a £1.5 million fine but when he failed to pay it, he had another year added to his sentence. Summing up, the judge said this was “a bare-faced outrageous and massive fraud” and that had Chapman and DeLorean stood trial, they would have each faced at least 10 years imprisonment.

As part of the admistration process, the DMC-12’s engineering concept was sold by the administrators to Toyota who later used the plans to develop the first generation MR2. While DeLorean’s reputation as a businessman was tarnished, the DMC-12 became iconic when it was featured prominently featured in the 1985 film ‘Back To The Future’ and its two sequels, despite being named among ‘The 50 Worst Cars of All Time’ by Time Magazine.

Such a stranger-than-fiction story had plenty to mine lyrically and while it had not been the intention to make a synthetic pop record, the concept’s era pointed towards using instruments such as the Casio SK-5, Korg MiniKorg 700 and Roland SH-101 as well as electronic drums. The gritty sci-fi funk ‘n’ synth instrumental ‘Neon Theme’ acted as the starter. But swapping Detroit for Belfast with some “Motor City Blues”, the shiny optimistic emulation of DURAN DURAN on ‘Dream Cars’ with its rugged jerky snap provided by THE STROKES’ drummer Fab Moretti and engaging call-and-response vocals made for an ideal first song-based salvo.

Rumoured to be about a date rejection by Carrie Fisher, ‘I Told Her On Alderaan’ sounded as if it could have come from a John Hughes Brat Pack movie, but DeLorean was a renowned swordsman who was said to have squired the likes of Bond girl Ursula Andress, actress Candice Bergen and singer Nancy Sinatra.

DeLorean’s most celebrated conquest was Raquel Welch and on the NEW ORDER versus LES RITA MITSOUKO disco hybrid ‘Raquel’, in character Gruff Rhys cannot quite believe his luck: “I saw you as a movie star, but now you’re riding in my car.”

In a slight diversion, something more Super Furry was offered in the alternative-rock of ‘Steel Your Girl’ but with a self-explanatory title, the bleepy electro of ‘I Lust U’ was a Cate Le Bon duet that recounted DeLorean’s womanising but also that anything went for either party “if the price is right”. Brimming with hooks, the punchy ‘Belfast’ was a synthy paean to Ulster while the Hollywood life was documented on the sinister hypnotism of ‘Michael Douglas’ where DeLorean looked at his reflection in the pool to redesign his own chin at a party hosted by the current Mr Catherine Zeta Jones.

Despite the primarily retro-futuristic austere, ‘Stainless Steel’ took several excursions into rap and while ‘Sweat Shop’ with Yo Majesty provided some fitting drive-by tension, ‘Trick For Treat’ featuring Spank Rock and Har Mar Superstar and the Fatlip fronted ‘Luxury Pool’ confused the flow although these three tracks would probably have worked as an EP on its own for a hip-hop audience.

Closing with the short sombre drone folk of the title track featuring THE MAGIC NUMBERS on backing vocals, stylistically ‘Stainless Style’ was an eclectic adventure capturing DeLorean’s excess and ultimate downfall. The album’s musical culture clash represented the pacey party-driven lifestyle of John DeLorean, a life of cash, sex, plastic surgery, celebrity and questionable ethics.

Reaching No 67 in the UK album charts, ‘Stainless Style’ was a moderate success and earned a 2008 Mercury Music Prize nomination, but did not reach the commercial heights of SUPER FURRY ANIMALS or Gruff Rhys’ solo work.

While NEON NEON was initially intended as a one-off project, an unreleased song ‘Wheels’ from the ‘Stainless Style’ sessions was included on the 2011 ‘Complex’ compilation celebrating 10 years of Lex Records.

Then in 2013, a second album ‘Praxis Makes Perfect’ about on the life of Italian socialist publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli was released. Best known for translating and publishing Boris Pasternak’s ‘Doctor Zhivago’ in the West after being refused publication domestically in the Soviet Union, he died violently under mysterious circumstances in 1972. And that was another story…


‘Stainless Style’ is still available via Lex Records as a vinyl LP and download, available from https://neonneon.bandcamp.com/album/stainless-style

https://lexrecords.com/artists/neon-neon/

https://www.facebook.com/neonneonband

https://twitter.com/neonneonband

https://www.instagram.com/neonneonofficial/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
13th May 2022

A Short Conversation with EUGENE

The Milan-based Roman producer EUGENE first came to wider attention in the UK with his single ‘Radiowave’ released by Wall Of Sound in 2019.

An ambassador for the electronic instruments distributor Midiware, he has also been a singing actor for the Italian versions of animated series and movies such as ‘Lego Batman’, ‘Peter Rabbit’, ‘Happy Feet’, ‘Ask The StoryBots 2’, ‘Fireman Sam’ and ‘Thomas & Friends’.

His soundtrack for the surreal short film ‘Lavender Braid’ by American director Magdalena Hill combined synthesizers and voice with prepared piano, violins and the hurdy gurdy, an ancient hand-cranked drone string instrument.

Over the past few years, EUGENE has been keeping himself busy with remixes, live work (pandemic allowing) and releasing a series of singles in the build-up to his debut album ‘Seven Years In Space’. Asking “Can an object float in space for seven years?” in an oblique reference to recent times, the record is a one-way ride through 1890 and 2084.

While there is the throbbing electronic pop of ‘Of Signals & Voices’ and the punchy energy of ‘Gone’, the debut long player sees the Italian musician exploring and expressing from the galactic rock of ‘Dive’ and the arty Italo of ‘Crash’ to the ELO-esque ‘How Would You Define It’ and the electro-funk workout ‘Diagram’.

But there are more cerebral moments too; ‘Undisclos*d’ distorts piano over a slow dark waltz while mixing in Texas Instruments and the vocoder tinged ambience of ‘Ionosphere’. And while David Bowie said we had only ‘Five Years’ and THE CURE felt there were ‘One Hundred Years’, EUGENE synths up ‘A Forest’ by the latter to confirm there are actually only seven!

‘Seven Years In Space’ maintains EUGENE’s assertion that “Pop is not a crime”. He kindly spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about his first length album and getting back on the live circuit.

You have been releasing a series of singles to start 2022, is this all leading to a full-length EUGENE album?

Absolutely yes. You know I always preferred to release just single tracks or EPs rather than entire albums, but this time I felt like saying something more. It was basically a communication need. By the way, the album will be out on May 13 and it’s titled ‘Seven Years in Space’.

‘Of Signals & Voices’ has some familiar tones about it, what influenced its sound?

That song came up almost instantly, lyrics included: this is not the first time that it happens to me. Also arrangement was easily completed. It’s all built around a sequenced bass line, with lots of real-time tweaks, but at the end of it I realized I was just simply writing a blues, a sort of ‘Radiowave – part II’, if you pay attention to the lyrics.

I also knew that there was something coming subconsciously from synth heroes Gary Numan, Howard Jones, Thomas Dolby – to mention a few some – and maybe STEELY DAN too, but I tried my best to filter their influence through my own sensitivity.

‘Gone’ evokes a more fully electronic DURAN DURAN?

I think ‘Gone’ is one of the most energetic and elegant tracks I’ve made so far, at least I tried. So many DURAN DURAN tunes got that combination at a very high level. I feel honoured by this comparison, I don’t know if I am up to it, thank you!

What did you think of the most recent DURAN DURAN album ‘Anniversary’ with its two Giorgio Moroder produced songs?

I immediately asked myself: “why didn’t they do this back in the early 80s?”. They did a flawless job. On the other hand, I have to admit that it sounds very celebratory to me, but it’s okay. I guess they’re not here to prove anything else, they’re just having a good time doing what they’ve always done.

There’s some anger coming out on ‘Crash’?

There is anger and a bit of cynicism too. It’s about the end of a human relationship, compared to a furious chase ending in a so-called “perfect crash”, where everything is saved or everything is destroyed: no other options at all! I love the Clint Eastwood voice sample you can hear after the first chorus: “Go ahead, make my day”. I think it adds irony and drama at the same time, it contains the spirit of the whole song.

What is ‘Dive’ about?

It’s about an aesthetic impulse, a relentless search for style that wins over time and fashion, while the world around seems doomed to fall into ruin. The narrator is a kind of futuristic Dorian Gray, crossing a stargate between 1890 and 2084.

Have you bought any new equipment recently that has changed your way of working?

I bought a new Moog synthesizer and a very cool reverb / modulation effect unit called Hypnosis, but actually my method just got even more pragmatic. I’ve discovered the effectiveness through the subtraction of the elements. I also love the unpredictable, I’m learning to exploit mistakes or unexpected situations during the recordings.

You have also been busy with remixes for other artists, like MILANO ‘84’s ‘Lola’, what is your approach to this compared with when you produce your own music?

As for my own music I put no boundaries to creativity and I’m interested first and foremost in being sincere and expressive: remixes work like this too but I see them more connected to urgency, you know, it’s a matter of instinct. That is why I always try to make construction sessions last no longer than a couple of days. I had already been guesting as lead vocalist on MILANO 84’s version of ‘Lola’, originally written and released by Italian cult duo KRISMA in the late 70s.

I found this new version really fascinating, dark and experimental, a bit far away from the usual MILANO 84 new-Italo touch. So when time came to do my remix version, I decided without hesitation to put some Italo disco flavours into it and eventually bring ‘Lola’ back to MILANO 84’s home: during these sessions I spent more time dancing than recording, believe me!

Your take on ‘My Crying Bride’ for KLONAVENUS with its dark and moody synthwave vibes was quite different from your usual sound and very different from the original?

In this case I went way more experimental, heavily pitching voices on downtempo beats and using a low-fi attitude in sound treatment – vaporwave fans might dig this one! The glacial mood of the original track is still there anyway, I just felt like adding some tension and disquiet. I had the idea while listening to the intense Valerie Hely’s isolated vocal track.

You have been backing veteran Italian new wave artist GARBO on his recent tour. For those in the UK who probably won’t know who he is, what is his enduring appeal and what songs would you suggest people should checkout?

GARBO is the first artist in Italy to achieve mainstream success in the early 1980s with a clever combination of rock, pop and subtle electronic textures, which would later be referred to as the Italian New Wave.

As well as being appealing for his minimal and almost androgynous look, his songs seemed to give a voice to a troubled generation in the midst of an identity crisis: it’s amazing how many of his lyrics are still tremendously relevant today.

To introduce you to GARBO’s music I would suggest these four tracks: ‘Vorrei Regnare’, ‘Generazione’, ‘Radioclima’ and ‘Up The Line’.

How was it for you to be out playing live again?

Oh, it was sort of that coming-back-to-life feeling. You know I’m not a bedroom musician, so performing live is the ideal completion of my studio production activity. I missed the excitement of those five minutes before taking the stage, the adrenaline, the exchange of energy with people.

But one show was flooded out, what happened there?

This is an unbelievable story: last August I was in a small town near Rome for a stadium concert as a live session man with a very well-known Italian popstar. It was a splendid summer day… well, until 3 in the afternoon. We were taken by surprise by an extremely violent storm: within an hour and a half the stadium became a huge swimming pool. My bandmates and I took to the covered stage, which was the safest place available, waiting for that bad dream to end. Fortunately, the rescue vehicles managed to “empty” the stadium in a short time and the concert was re-scheduled for the next day.

At that point another problem came up: the bass player was not available for the re-scheduled gig, so the manager asked me if I could play the bass parts on the synthesizers in addition to my usual parts. I’ll tell you, I had a hard time but in the end everything went pretty well.

The ‘Italo Disco Legacy’ documentary celebrated a frequently maligned sub-genre, what did you think of the film?

I enjoyed it a lot, it’s a well-made documentary on this rather underestimated musical genre. It very much reflects the naivety of those times: I suppose there was a great desire to experiment while having fun, albeit with limited means in terms of technology.

What is next for you?

Right these days I’m organizing the promotion calendar with the precious help of my partner-in-crime Claire (Stargazers Inc) – once the physical copies of the album are available, there will be showcases and club gigs, I hope to be back in UK too.

Meanwhile I continue my work as music producer and consultant for other artists, record labels and TV productions, but at the same time Claire and I are always looking for the next exhibition to visit or the next city to travel to.

Boredom doesn’t live here.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to EUGENE

‘Seven Years In Space’ is released on 13th May 2022 in CD, cassette and digital formats, pre-order at https://eugeneofficial.bandcamp.com/ or pre-save at https://bfan.link/seven-years-in-space

http://www.eugeneofficial.com/

https://www.facebook.com/eugenemusic

https://twitter.com/eugene_music

https://www.instagram.com/eugenemusic.official/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Claire Lyndon at Stargazers Inc
10th May 2022

DUBSTAR Two

‘Two’ is the second album from DUBSTAR since Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie reunited as a duo.

After several false starts, 2018’s six string slanted long player ‘One’ co-produced by Youth was a welcome return for DUBSTAR, but the impression was that Blackwood and Wilkie were just warming up.

Working with Stephen Hague acting as producer and an unofficial third member, DUBSTAR have returned to the electronic driven sound of their debut long player ‘Disgraceful’ and as a result, have recorded some of the best work of their career on ‘Two’.

Hague had co-produced ‘Disgraceful’ which spawned the hits ‘Not So Manic Now’, ‘Stars’, ‘Anywhere’ and ‘Elevator Song’, providing a musical bridge between Britpop and Synth Britannia. Largely recorded in the face of adversity during lockdown in a “pass the parcel” manner, Wilkie confirmed “Dilemmas and experiments which would normally consume an afternoon can take a week, when you’re recording remotely”.  The necessary social distancing dictated the instrumentation as he added “We found ourselves naturally gravitating to our electronic side over the pandemic, because it lends itself more practically to remote production. We couldn’t sit around jamming with guitars or experimenting together in real time”.

Opener ‘Token’ immediately points to Hague’s productions for PET SHOP BOYS and ERASURE, a song about leaving behind abusive relationships and minor gestures, a topic that many can relate to. Full of resilience, it is possibly Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie’s most overt synthpop statement yet. The anxious electronic disco of ‘I Can See You Outside’ evokes an unlikely liaison between Christine McVie and Giorgio Moroder in an exhilarating ride “beyond the fault lines”; it all hits the zeitgeist in a brave new world of unease, confusion, conspiracy and sadness.

Continuing with the seismologic analogies, ‘Tectonic Plates’ focusses on friction over a neo-baggy beat, with Wilkie bursting with rhythm guitar reminiscent of DUBSTAR’s former Food labelmates BLUR on their first hit ‘There’s No Other Way’, although the array of catchy synth riffs alongside are irresistible.

Going more downtempo, the moody ‘Lighthouse’ harks back to the days of Britpop with guitar inflections and a rousing chorus while the charming piano focussed ballad ‘Tears’ is supplemented by a virtual string section before a simultaneously sparkling and rugged combination of COCTEAU TWINS and SIMPLE MINDS comes in the middle eight.

Inspired by socially-distanced queuing at the height of the lockdown, ‘Hygiene Strip’ is wonderfully classic DUBSTAR characterised by Blackwood’s forlorn vocal presence but there is also the subtle lifting air of PET SHOP BOYS looming to offer hope a haze of melancholy.

Pacing up to an offbeat, ‘Blood’ again echoes BLUR and a snatch of XTC but is shaped by a more student indie aesthetic, while ‘Social Proof’ strums along as a stern Blackwood announces “I’ll tell you something…”

With Sarah Blackwood hitting some lovely high notes, the bittersweet ‘Kissing To Be Unkind’ reflects on former friends who turn unnecessary nasty while presenting a misleading friendly persona, and all because “Losing the hand has made you hard to please”. Ending with a haunting cover of REM’s ‘Perfect Circle’ and its absorbing piano from Stephen Hague, it goes full circle with the Portland-born producer’s past as he had worked with Michael Stipe & Co on the demo version of ‘Catapult’ in 1982, a song which sat later next to ‘Perfect Circle’ on the Athens GA quartet’s debut album ‘Murmur’.

Satisfying both their Synth Britannia and Britpop rooted fanbase, thanks to the return of Stephen Hague in the producer’s chair and displaying a common musical affinity, DUBSTAR have provided their spiritual follow-up to ‘Disgraceful’ in ‘Two’. The kitchen sink dramas continue with the usual cups of tea, so know these songs and sing them.


‘Two’ is released by Northern Writes in CD, 2CD, clear or black vinyl LP and digital formats, available from https://dubstar.tmstor.es

https://www.dubstarofficial.co/

http://www.facebook.com/dubstaruk/

https://twitter.com/dubstarUK

https://www.instagram.com/dubstaruk/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photo by Dom Foster
6th May 2022

SOFT CELL *Happiness Not Included

Coinciding with their live farewell at London’s O2 Arena in 2018, SOFT CELL surprised their fans with two new songs ‘Northern Lights’ and ‘Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)’ on an updated compilation ‘Keychains & Snowstorms – The Singles’.

What was planned to be the end became a brand new start as Marc Almond and Dave Ball embarked on a UK tour in 2021 to celebrate 40 years of their brilliant debut album ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’. The show also included a preview of material from a new album for 2022 entitled ‘*Happiness Not Included’, their first since the 2002 reunion long player ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’.

Co-produced by Phillip Larsen whose credits include Andy Bell, Moby, Mylène Farmer, Claudia Brücken, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue, ‘*Happiness Not Included’ is an introspective collection of 12 new songs that mourn the passage of time, missed opportunities and life not going as planned.

Recorded remotely under the spectre of the global pandemic, ‘*Happiness Not Included’ features “Science fiction stories for the 21st century” according to Dave Ball. The cinematic drama of the not-so ‘Happy Happy Happy’ opens and sees Almond as the humble narrator expressing his strained frustrations about “state assisted dying” while Ball realises his John Barry ambitions with a series of synth string sweeps in a stylistic ident that recurs throughout this album.

“Lost in the junkie jungle”, the machine disco of ‘Polaroid’ recounts SOFT CELL’s love of The Factory pop art scene and a bittersweet meeting with Andy Warhol in 1982. Featuring speech samples from the man himself and his enclave, it is also a metaphor for life that accepts that once the end comes, one of few things that remain are photographs.

A relative of ‘Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)’, ‘Bruises On My Illusions’ covers the familiar SOFT CELL topics of pain, self-loathing and misanthropy with a sharp energy complemented by Almond’s vocal theatrics that are more convincing than on ‘Heart Like Chernobyl’, although that song’s stark Cold War lyrical analogies on the morally toxic world of today have added poignancy given recent world events. Not included on the album, the excellent B-side ‘Vapourise’ with its references to “a nuclear explosion” and “a full-on attack” proves to be even more chilling…

The catchy ‘Purple Zone’ is a slice of soaring melancholic Europop with immediate reminiscences of PET SHOP BOYS in particular.

So it is not entirely surprising that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe make a guest appearance and plant their aesthetic, although it must be pointed out that this is a SOFT CELL composition, characterised by Almond’s darkly doomed expressionism about midlife.

A union of The Blackpool Electro Mafia as well as featuring the voices of both Almond and Tennant, ‘Purple Zone’ goes full circle as after SOFT CELL first imploded in 1984, it was PET SHOP BOYS who ran with their baton after smoothing off some of the rough edges.

Taking proceedings down a notch, the wonderful ‘Light Sleepers’ presents a glorious orchestrated ballad arranged by Ball with soprano sax from Gary Barnacle that provides a backdrop for Almond’s nocturnal demeanour that acts as sedative relief. With a sense of foreboding on the album’s title song because “the future is in a lunatic’s hands”, Dave Ball plays on more of his John Barry spy drama fantasies with virtual harpsicord over a metronomic drum machine, aided by soulful male voices and flourishes of flute.

Meanwhile, the tense Italo Noir of the ironically titled ‘Nostalgia Machine’ gets some choppy rhythm guitar and pentatonic phrasing thrown in for an album highlight that revs up proceedings with a touch of exuberant swagger.

Originally a Dave Ball instrumental issued as part of a single and CD that came with the boxed set of his autobiography ‘Electronic Boy’ and now featuring a deranged expletive laden rap from American drag performance artist Christeene, the tense industrialised pulse of ‘Nighthawks’ recalls the sweaty alternative club overtures of one-time Some Bizzare stable mates CABARET VOLTAIRE. Cellmates are even treated to the deep growly voice of Mr Ball himself repeating the title and ‘Staying Alive’ refrains from backing vocalists Bryan Chambers, Louise Marshall and Simon King.

The eerie vibraphone-laden swing of ‘I’m Not A Friend Of God’ is a 21st Century ‘Blasphemous Rumours’; in the face of a future with a scary face, Almond decides that “the young can deal with it instead”. Reflecting Almond’s past solo work, ‘Tranquiliser’ could be Gene Pitney with a widescreen orchestral palette counterpointed by a solemn narrative on dependency.

Ending with the grand six minute plus ballad ‘New Eden’ where “being young is not an option”, Ball’s gentle piano structure echoes Eno and his ‘On Some Faraway Beach’, before building towards its close with subtle electronics, complimentary strings and a choir. “All those plans we made in the ‘60s seem naïve now we’ve grown older” laments an impassioned Almond; now closer to the end than the beginning, this is a declaration of hope, that things can still be fine.

“In this album I wanted to look at us as a society: a place where we have chosen to put profits before people, money before morality and decency, food before the rights of animals, fanaticism before fairness and our own trivial comforts before the unspeakable agonies of others” said Almond of ‘*Happiness Not Included’, “But in the album there is also a belief that there is a utopia if we can peel back the layers and understand what really matters”.

While the album has flaws with a few of the tracks sounding underdeveloped, there are a significant number of cracking songs that make this second reunion of SOFT CELL worthwhile.

You’ve been to the shows, got the T-shirt, bought the books and heard the singles but now it is time to listen to the album; in this modern compilation era of playlists, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has compiled its own highly enjoyable classic 10 track version of ‘*Happiness Not Included’ from the 13 songs in the pool, you might consider doing the same.


‘*Happiness Not Included’ is released on 6th May 2022 via BMG in various formats including yellow coloured vinyl LP, picture disc LP, CD, cassette and download, pre-order now avaiable from https://softcell.tmstor.es/

http://www.softcell.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/softcellband/

https://twitter.com/softcellhq

https://www.instagram.com/softcellhq/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
4th May 2022

« Older posts