Blancmange – Wanderlust

19 09 2018

Blancmange release their tenth studio album, Wanderlust, on October 19, 2018. Wanderlust features ten songs composed by Neil Arthur, and arranged, co-produced and mixed with Benge (Wrangler/Creep Show). This is the pair’s third album together following their Fader First Light album in June 2017 and last year’s Blancmange album Unfurnished Rooms.

wanderlust

As with last years Unfurnished Rooms, Wanderlust is a more stark electronic offering than the early Blancmange albums. The major difference with this album is the inclusion of three songs (Distant Storm,In Your Room and Not a Priority) that could easily fit onto a “best of” album, and if released in the mid-80s, would have probably been top 20 singles.

Opening with lead single Distant Storm, the duo lay out their intentions straight away. Pulsing bass synths and expanding percussion layers drive a wistful, vocoder treated vocal from Neil Arthur. A Giorgio Moroder meets Madonna’s Lucky Star keyboard arrangement lifts this song to another level and adds real colour and warmth to the song.

In Your Room dials down the warmth a couple of notches, and is a much darker track. Musically this has a feel of the edgier early Soft Cell tracks, and features a simple yet naggingly addictive chorus. You will not be able to stop yourself singing along.

“In your room, In Your Room, IN YOUR ROOM”

I Smashed Your Phone opens with what sounds like the drum machine intro pattern to Wham’s Everything She Wants and has some interesting percussion programming highlighting key points in the song. The lyric references our often fractious relationship with modern technology, and this theme continues throughout the album.

Gravel Drive Syndrome is another album highlight. The tightly, unnaturally sequenced bleeps underpin a growing feeling of unease mirrored by this tale of social climbing at any cost. Talking to Machines is a John Foxx influenced synthesised slow-burner, warning us that our interactions are often with machines that are “Always on, on always”. Switch off and step away people!

Not a Priority is my favourite track on the album. Easily the most commercial song since the early Blancmange albums, Not a Priority features a sugar-coated joint chorus with one of my favourite current electronic artists, Hannah Peel. The synths bubble away, and along with the ever-present Moroder, I get hints of Kraftwerk and Propaganda on this album highlight.

“Please be yourself, you can’t be anybody else.”

TV Debate is the first track to add guitars to the mix. A Berlin era Bowie / glam-rock backing drives a tale of channel-surfing and wall-to-wall talking heads displayed on the screen. David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush) adds an engaging guitar wall of sound to another of the albums key tracks, Leaves.  The arrangement rises and falls, mimicking the seasons, as nature meets mankind.

White Circle, Black Hole is a rare chink of light in the lyrical darkness, and has one of Arthur’s best vocal performances on the album, along with a twin guitar propelled chorus.

“Start again, such a good place.”

The album ends on the title track. Disembodied sampled voices, and a heart-beat kick drum introduces a song about living in this moment, in the here and now. Analogue synth lines take the lead instead of a traditional vocal chorus, as Wanderlust draws to a close on an optimistic note.

Blancmange 2018

I loved last years Unfurnished Rooms but Wanderlust sees Blancmange at their very best, bringing their pop sensibility back to the surface, whilst exploring the dark side of electronica. One of the strengths of this album is that the music channels the adventurous spirit of the 1980s, yet the lyrics explore a dystopian, close enough to touch, near future. This mix of darkness and light makes Wanderlust a unique album in the Blancmange catalogue, and one of the most interesting albums I have heard this year.

Distant Storm
In Your Room
I Smashed Your Phone
Gravel Drive Syndrome
Talking to Machines
Not a Priority
TV Debate
Leaves
White Circle, Black Hole
Wanderlust

wanderlust
Buy Blancmange Wanderlust on CD from Amazon

wanderlust

Buy Blancmange Wanderlust on vinyl from Amazon

near_future_-_ideal_home

Buy Near Future – Ideal Home on Amazon





Claudia Brücken / Jerome Froese – Beginn

16 05 2018

beginnBeginn is a new collaborative project between Claudia Brücken from German 80s electronic group Propaganda, and Jerome Froese the son of electronic music pioneer Edgar Froese and former member of his father’s band, Tangerine Dream.

Album opener [the] Last Dance is a slow-paced piece that sets the mood perfectly. A Roland CR-78 drum machine programme provides the rhythm, underpinned by deep piano notes, as layer after layer of synths build as the song develops. A lovely, under-stated guitar line ushers out the track.

Claudia Brücken’s vocals sound so good on Beginn, particularly on Wounded, one of the albums darker pieces.

“And I wait, till I’m free, from your memory”

Flight [of] Fancy lifts the mood. The most uplifting song on the album has a White Willow, almost progressive pop feel to it. Cards feels a little like a more modern take on the ZTT / Propaganda sound. Edgy synth lines dart out from beneath heavily processed, frantic beats. The music on Cards is a feast for synth lovers.

Light [of the] Rising Sun is a moving piece. Beatless, and sparesely adorned with piano and electronic shards, the short song flows into Whispers [of] Immortality. Softly spoken verses from Brücken, and an adventurous arrangement from Froese make this one of my favourite moments on Beginn.

beginn2

Beginn is clearly a well-sequenced album. The songs seem to get stronger as the album progresses. Sound [of the] Waves was one of my early favourites, and has a feel of Brücken’s work with Paul Humphreys (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) as Onetwo, mixed with the Björk / David Arnold Play Dead single (particularly the percussion).

“a fleeting sound, a silence inside”

Stars Walking Backwards ramps up the feeling of unease. Breakbeats and pulsating sequenced riffs drive the song forward. All thats missing is a Holly Johnson chant of “Who-ha” to make this a piece of pure ZTT synthpop.

Sweet Sense [of] Liberation features Claudia’s co-vocalist in Propaganda, Susanne Freytag. Claudia and Susanne have recently reunited as xPropaganda, and this track certainly has some of the old Propaganda spirit. Another adventurous arrangement lifts the track to another level.

The album ends, as it started, with a slow-burner in Unbound Spaces. Found sounds and deep wave synths ebb and flow through the dreamy album closer.

Beginn is an intriguing first offering, and is probably not what you would expect from Claudia Brücken and Jerome Froese. It’s most definitely not Propaganda with Tangerine Dream keyboards. Whilst the DNA of both bands can be found at times in Beginn, the album has a sound and identity of its own.

Beginn is released on CD / LP by Cherry Red on 15 June 2018.

[the] Last Dance
Wounded
Flight [of] Fancy
Cards
Light [of the] Rising Sun
Whispers [of] Immortality
Sound [of the] Waves
Stars Walking Backwards
Forevermore
Sweet Sense [of] Liberation
Unbound Spaces

Buy Beginn on CD

Buy Beginn on Vinyl

Buy A Secret Wish by Propaganda on CD

Buy A Secret Wish by Propaganda on Vinyl

Buy Noise And Girls Come Out To Play: A Compact Introduction To Propaganda on CD

Buy Wishful Thinking Collector’s Edition by Propaganda on CD

 





Date Stamp – the 80s (part1)

30 06 2017

Date Stamp – the 80s is the first in a series of blog posts attached to Spotify playlists I will be putting together, alongside my regular reviews of new releases.

sign o the times

The playlists will be a mixture of the familiar and lesser known songs, that I hope will shine the light on artists that you might not be familiar with. I would love to read your comments about the tracks I have chosen – please feel free to follow my playlists and share them.

I hope you enjoy listening to part 1 of my 80s Spotify playlist.

My Date Stamp – the 80s (part 1) playlist opens up with Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer, from the Rio album. The synth lines alone lead to its inclusion in this playlist. Save A Prayer was released in August 1982.

Next up is the only 12″ mix in the playlist. A brilliant Laurie Latham production, and one of my favourite extended versions from the 80s. Released in March 1983, Come Back and Stay can be found on the No Parlez album, and contains one of Pino Palladino’s most memorable bass-lines.

N_networkIt was difficult to choose just one Prince song for this playlist, and I know future playlists will include other songs from the Purple maestro, but I kept coming back to the Sign O The Times album, and particularly the power-pop of I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, included here in its full album length.

The video for this track was a mainstay on Night Network, the late night weekend ITV show that preceded 24 hour TV.  I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man was released as a single in November 1987.

Mothers Talk was the first single from the second Tears For Fears album Songs From The Big Chair. The single was released in August 1984, with the album following in February 1985. Fairlight stabs, heavy sequenced synths and 80s nuclear paranoia drive this powerful song. The Roland Orzabal guitar riff on Mothers Talk is one of his best. The song may be synth and sampler heavy, but the guitar work (and the delayed and distorted bass and percussion in the outro) make this a standout track on the album.

If you are feeling flush, a deluxe edition of the album was released in 2014. You can read my review here.

wilderTiny Children from the second Teardrop Explodes album Wilder (1981) is one of the bands most commercial pieces.

Released as a single in June 1982, it sat comfortably with the other pop songs released that year, but as with all great pop music, scratch a little deeper below the surface and you will find much to savour.

“Oh no, I’m not sure
Not anymore”

A Secret Wish was the debut album by German band Propaganda. The album was released by ZTT Records in 1985, and was produced by Stephen Lipson with Trevor Horn. p:Machinery is my favourite track on the album, and one of the finest mid-80s singles. I love the percussion and crisp synths, and lead vocalist Claudia Brücken is still releasing new music.

Fade To Grey by Visage is one of the oldest tracks in this playlist. The single (the bands second) was released in 1980. The song was promoted by one of  Kevin Godley and Lol Creme’s earliest videos.

lexicon of loveThe title song of this playlist is Date Stamp by ABC, from their debut album, Lexicon of Love. I’ve gone for one of the less-well known ABC songs, but its my favourite track from the album. It hits all the marks for me – great backing vocals, a stunning bass-line and some of Martin Fry’s finest lyrics.

“Looking for the girl who meets
supply with demand”

Lexicon of Love was released in June 1982.

Another lesser-known track is up next. Here Comes a Raincloud is from the second China Crisis album, Working with Fire and Steel. A fine ballad with a wonderful arrangement and beautiful production (from Mike Howlett).  The (real not synthesised) strings on this track still sound beautiful. A piece of pop magic from the Liverpudlians.

I’ve included the 10″ version of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark‘s Messages in my playlist. Another mighty Mike Howlett production. I love the hard sequences and the ever evolving bassline in this single from 1980.

I’m sure other Thomas Dolby tracks will feature in subsequent playlists, but I chose Airwaves as I think its a song that’s often overlooked. That chorus!

Airwaves features on the 1982 The Golden Age of Wireless album – I can recommend the excellent collectors edition.

I never tire of hearing Absolute by Scritti Politti. The mixture of sugar-sweet vocals and hard-beats hits the spot for me, even to this day. This Arif Mardin produced single from the bands period working in New York arrived smack bang in the middle of the 80s, and can be found on the album Cupid & Psyche 85.

A little journey back into the less-familiar for the next track on my playlist. Unless is from the debut Pale Fountains album Pacific Street, which was released in 1984. The slow-building percussion and reverb-laden synth mix with some heart-wrenching strings and an unexpected sequenced synth line towards the end of the song.

The band turned up the guitars for their final studio album, …From Across the Kitchen Table in 1986, before splitting, with vocalist Mick Head forming the band Shack, who have existed in various incarnations from 1987 to date.

44426-cafe-bleuI loved the early to mid-period Style Council singles and I’ve included the single edit of one of my favourites in this playlist. As with the previous track, some wonderfully detailed 80s percussion underpins My Ever Changing Moods. The song includes a typically great Paul Weller lyric and one of his best guitar performances from this era.

“The hush before the silence,
the winds after the blast”

My Ever Changing Moods was released in 1984 and can be found on Greatest Hits (this single version) or on their debut studio album Cafe Bleu.

Prefab Sprout’s Goodbye Lucille #1 (known as Johnny Johnny when released as a single) is a highlight of the bands second album Steve McQueen, which was released in 1985. The production by Thomas Dolby results in a timeless sounding album. Just listen to the intro – such wonderful separation between the layers of guitars.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions released their debut album Rattlesnakes in 1984, and its release was preceded by the single Forest Fire in August 1984. The album was recorded in John Foxx’s The Garden studios in East London. I’ve always loved the simple but very emotive guitar solo that pushes the song to its conclusion.

Lloyd Cole has always been known as a great wordsmith, and Forest Fire and its lyrics of wild love and lust are an absolute joy.

“I believe in love, I’ll believe in anything”

I’ve included the title track from Deacon Blue’s debut album, Raintown, in this playlist. A fine production from Jon Kelly (who also worked with Chris Rea, Kate Bush and Prefab Sprout). Raintown is a strong late 80s albums, and its worth tracking down the 2012 Edsel reissue.

Primarily known for his signature song Wonderful Life, the late Colin Vearncombe’s Black have left us with a rich catalogue of  songs. My favourite track from the debut album Wonderful Life is the torch-song Paradise. The album was re-issued as a two disc deluxe edition in 2013. Which I didn’t know about until writing this blog – so over to Amazon I go.

“Life should never feel small”

I’ve included one of Thomas Lang’s less well-known songs in this playlist. Thomas delivers a heartfelt version of Jacques Brel’s powerful anti-war (and song of loss) Sons of.  The song was often a highlight of Lang’s live shows in the late 80s, early 90s. Sons of is available on Scallywag Jaz and More – the Best of…

“Sons of the great or sons unknown
All were children like your own”

age of plasticMy playlist ends with Elstree by The Buggles. Taken from their first album The Age of Plastic from 1980,  the haunting Elstree features some lovely piano and a convincing minimoog oboe emulation from Geoff Downes.

The Buggles only released one further album, Adventures in Modern Recording in 1981. The past few years have seen rumours of new Buggles music, which would please me greatly, as I am a big fan of most of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes work.

Ok, Elstree ends with the words “Cut”, and so does this playlist. I hope you enjoyed listening to all of the songs, and maybe you’ve discovered some music you were not aware of. Feel free to leave a comment below, and I hope to return to the 80s for another serving of the familiar and the unknown in the next few months.

The next playlists will be two collections of Alternative Jewels – one of older songs and one made up of some of my more recent favourites. Follow the Music Shack on Twitter to find out when they will be available.

To be informed of new posts, along with music tweets, please follow the Music Shack on Twitter @MkMusicshack.








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