Musik Music Musique 1980 – The Dawn Of Synth Pop album review

22 06 2020

Musik Music Musique is a 3 CD compilation from Cherry Red, chronicling the beginnings of the synth-pop music revolution that was to dominate the charts for years to come. Whilst containing well-known names from the era (Buggles, The Human League, Ultravox and Spandau Ballet) the tracks chosen from these artists are not the obvious big-hits.

The real discoveries and delights in this compendium are the more obscure tracks, from the likes of XYNN, Nick Nicely and other acts who often released just a handful of songs before disappearing forever.

The first of the 3 CDs contains one of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s finest earlier songs, the naggingly addictive Messages. The Human League are represented by their cover of Mick Ronson’s Only After Dark, taken from the final album produced by the line-up that featured Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, who left the League to form Heaven 17 with Glenn Gregory later in 1980.

Victims of the Riddle was the debut single from Toyah (it was actually released in 1979, but we will let that slip!). A keyboard driven song, with minimal guitar, it sits well on this compilation. Waiting by Ultravox is a good choice, as is Hazel O’Connor’s Sons And Lovers, with tribal drums offsetting the sax and synth squelches.

My favourite track on Disc One is from one of the most under-rated albums of the 80s, Sympathy from the debut (and only) album from Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls. Pauline was the vocalist in new wave band Penetration, and this Martin Hannett produced album saw Murray move in a more electronic direction. If you haven’t heard this album, its definitely worth investigating.

The compilation’s title track is from Zeus aka producer Zeus B. Held (Fashion’s Fabrique, John Foxx’s The Golden Section, Pete Wylie Sinful) and is a charming vocoder delivered pop song. XYNN (German multimedia artist Michael Winter) delivers the sparse and haunting Computed Man.

Gina X Performance (another Zeus B. Held collaboration) is represented by Vendor’s Box, a fuller arrangement than a lot of the purely electronic tracks on this compilation.

Lawnchairs by US band Our Daughter’s Wedding uses a similar synth sequence to the OMD track that kicks off the first CD, and is a regular on alternative 80s compilations / 80s themed radio.

Two of my favourites (from the songs I was unaware of previously) sit on the first CD. Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne by Suicide was produced by Ric Ocasek of The Cars, and DCT Dreams by Nick Nicely is a lo-fi masterpiece, overflowing with more than it’s fair share of pop hooks.

The second disc opens with a key early Spandau Ballet track Glow, and a hidden gem from Robin Scott’s M in Official Secrets (avoiding the obvious Pop Muzik, great song as it is).

Galactica from French space-rock band Rockets is well sequenced next to Kim Wilde’s album track Tuning In Tuning On and Landscape’s European Man, which pre-dated their most well-known song from 1981, Einstein a Go-Go. Admit it,that song is stuck in your head now, isn’t it?

Melbourne band The Metronomes provide a “Ray Bradbury inspired tale of star-crossed love between two computing devices” with their contribution A Circuit Like Me, that cosies up to one of John Foxx’s early, icy slice of the future singles No One Driving.

The most well-known track on this compilation is the Midge Ure assisted Philip Lynott (Thin Lizzy) single Yellow Pearl, a song that was used as the theme for Top Of The Pops during the first half of the decade.

Dalek I Love You (Destiny) by Liverpool’s Dalek I is a premium slice of electronic new wave influenced pop. French band Taxi Girl contribute an early single in Mannequin. Fans of The Stranglers will remember Taxi Girl from the 1981 La Folie tour and the JJ Burnel produced / Jet Black featuring Seppuku album in 1982.

This World Of Water, a no 31 with a bullet UK singles hit by New Musik, a band formed by producer Tony Mansfield, sits in the track list just before one of my favourite Japan songs, the Roxy Music Manifesto influenced Quiet Life.

The third and final disc opens with one of Buggles finest songs, Astroboy (And The Proles On Parade). Last year there were rumours of a new, third Buggles album. Here’s hoping….

The second song titled Mannequin is from Glasgow’s Berlin Blondes, with a great mixture of new wave basslines and electronic synth lead lines. Yello supply a scratchy, discordant Bimbo and the pure-pop quota is increased by The Lonely Spy from David Balfe and Bill Drummond’s Lori And The Chameleons project.

Blood Donor serve up a quirky Doctor Who homage and The Korgis Drawn And Quartered highlights a different side to the band who had a huge hit with the dreamy Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime.

The debut album from Visage was so influential, and single Mind Of A Toy features here. The handclaps and slap-bass mutant funk of Mataya Clifford and the track Living Wild adds a wild sense of fun to the final disc.

Karel Fialka’s The Eyes Have It was a near-hit in 1980, and received lots of radio play at the time. The Russians Are Coming by The Red Squares is a short track driven by cold war paranoia.

The compilation ends with La Düsseldorf and their boozy sounding Dampfriemen, drawing on early Kraftwerk and what sounds like too many visits to Bavarian Bierkeller’s. Dampfriemen is the only song on the album featuring a kazoo solo along side the electronic instruments, so a fitting end to this entertaining glimpse into the birth of 80s synthpop.

Disc one

Messages – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Musik, Music, Musique – Zeus
Coitus Interruptus – Fad Gadget
Computed Man – XYNN
Metal Love – Rod Vey
Vendor’s Box – Gina X Performance
Lawnchairs – Our Daughter’s Wedding
Tokyo – Science
Only After Dark – The Human League
Victims Of The Riddle – Toyah
DCT Dreams – Nick Nicely
Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne – Suicide
Waiting – Ultravox
Money – Moebius
Falling Years – The Fallout Club
Da Vorne Steht Ne Ampel – Der Plan
No, Nothing, Never – Dark Day
Sons And Lovers – Hazel O’Connor
Sympathy – Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls

Disc two

Glow – Spandau Ballet
Official Secrets – M
Chip n Roll – Silicon Teens
Galactica – Rockets
Tuning In Tuning On – Kim Wilde
European Man – Landscape
Can’t You Take A Joke? Ha Ha Hi Hi! – Henriette Coulouvrat
A Circuit Like Me – The Metronomes
No One Driving – John Foxx
Kebabträume – D.A.F.
Harmonitalk – Gary Sloan And Clone
Yellow Pearl – Philip Lynott
Dalek I Love You (Destiny) – dalek I
Mannequin – Taxi Girl
This World Of Water – New Musik
Quiet Life – Japan
Chase The Dragon – Kevin Harrison
Diskomo – The Residents

Disc three

Astroboy (And The Proles On Parade) – Buggles
Mannequin – Berlin Blondes
A Certain Way To Go – The Passage
Between – Sic
Bimbo – Yello
Images Of Delusion – Genocide
The Lonely Spy – Lori And The Chameleons
Lucy – Craze
I’m A Computer – The Goo-Q
Doctor …? – Blood Donor
Brushing Your Hair – Alex Fergusson
Drawn And Quartered – The Korgis
Mind Of A Toy – Visage
D’ya Think I’m Sexy – British Standard Unit
Living Wild – Mataya Clifford
Private Lives – Systems
The Eyes Have It – Karel Fialka
Suis-je Normale – Nini Raviolette
China Blue Vision – Eyeless In Gaza
The Russians Are Coming – The Red Squares
Dampfriemen – La Dusseldorf

Released on 31 July 2020.

Buy Musik Music Musique 1980 – The Dawn Of Synth Pop





John Foxx and The Maths – Howl album review

1 06 2020

Howl is the 5th studio album from John Foxx and The Maths, and is released on Metamatic Records on July 24 2020.

Joining John Foxx, Benge and Hannah Peel on this album is former Ultravox guitarist Robin Simon, who first worked with Foxx on Systems of Romance in 1978.

My Ghost sets the scene – guitars and synth’s duelling for attention, and an uptempo glam-rock meets early Prince beat. Intriguing lyrics and heavily processed vocals add a layer of mystery to this addictive opening track, that has hints of post-punk in the end section, referencing Foxx’s Ultravox work as well as some of the his work on The Garden (my favourite John Foxx album).

“my ghost comes running at me,
like living smoke from a burning tree”

Howl was the first single from the album, initially available on Foxx’s bandcamp page and it was clear that this new material would appeal to fans of his earlier albums. Howl is so satisfying, perfectly titled (the guitars do ‘howl’) and a joy to listen to, with the mix of electronica and chopped up and wild lead / rhythm guitar work referencing late seventies Bowie.

There is no time to pause, as the psychedelia of Everything Is Happening At The Same Time may slow down the BPM’s slightly, but the thick wall of sound is still a powerful statement. Benge and Hannah Peel excel on this beautifully produced and arranged piece.

Tarzan And Jane Regained is a more lo-fi production, and a simpler arrangement initially, as the buzzsaw guitar layers build incrementally as it becomes one of the albums most memorable tracks. Each playback reveals further details within the production, as previously hidden synth and guitar lines rise to the surface.

The sound changes with the widescreen clarity of The Dance, a song that showcases some of the most inventive synth lines on Howl. The guitars are used more as washes rather tan lead or rhythm, and sit further down in the mix, rising to the forefront during the chorus, which is pure Siouxsie & The Banshees from the Ju Ju era.

The dark, wild and seedy streets and characters of 1970s New York are celebrated in New York Times, a song screaming out to be released as a single. New York Times contains one of Foxx’s most memorable choruses, topped off by a great vocal performance making this track so vital.

“What would it take, to remove all the hate”

The darkest track on Howl is Last Time I Saw You, which drips with disdain and despair, and references Soho’s Berwick Street in London.

“The first time I saw you, I had to look away”

Even though this is probably Foxx at his most musically obtuse, I find myself returning to this song more than any on Howl. It is the most interesting lyric on the album, and I have no idea to the meaning behind Last Time I Saw You, which makes it all the more intriguing.

Howl is an intense listening experience, made sweeter by the delicate grace of its final song, Strange Beauty. Reminding me of the fragility of The Cocteau Twins at times, with chorus driven guitars and some shiver-inducing original 80s electronica, all four band members shine on this career highlight. Foxx also delivers a lyric and vocal full of elegance and longing.

“And when it fades way, leaving me with just a trace of of strange beauty,
of strange beauty, stranger than anything I’ve ever known”

Strange Beauty is timeless, and as the synth solo’s make way to a slow fade, you wish it could go on for longer, which is the sign of a great song.

Howl is a rare beast – an album that works as a perfect headphone experience, as well as blasting loud from your speakers. The production does a superb job in enabling this rewarding listening experience.

This is the album I have wanted to hear from John Foxx for a long-time – taking his guitar-led past into the same room as the stark electronica he is renowned for.

This incarnation of John Foxx And The Maths seem to have hit a peak, with a formula that will hopefully lead to more new music in the future. I cannot wait to hear what Foxx / early Ultravox fans think of this album, as there is so much here to enjoy and excite.

John Foxx (vocals/guitars)
Benge (keyboards/percussion)
Robin Simon (guitars)
Hannah Peel (violin)

My Ghost
Howl
Everything Is happening At The Same Time
Tarzan And Jane Regained
The Dance
New York Times
Last Time I Saw You
Strange Beauty

Buy Howl on CD
Buy Howl on vinyl

Buy Ultravox – Systems Of Romance on white vinyl





John Foxx – Metamatic (Deluxe Edition)

30 04 2018

meta500John Foxx releases a 3 CD deluxe edition of his Metamatic album on 25 May 2018. The original 10-track album, recorded in 1979 and originally released in 1980 was remastered from analogue tapes back in 2014, along with various B-sides. A few tapes full of instrumental music from the sessions were also set aside for remastering but these revealed further discoveries, including alternative mixes and the song Miss Machinery – a mutant, electro-punk twist on Foxx B-side, 20th Century.

Jonathan Barnbrook (regular Foxx collaborator and Bowie’s Blackstar designer) worked on the new 2018 reissue design as the project grew to 49 tracks across 3 CDs. This includes the 15 instrumentals contained on CD3 which collectively sound like a lost electronic soundtrack with echoes of Quatermass, BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop and the dark DIY electronics of Thomas Leer and Robert Rental.

Metamatic is one of the most influential electronic albums from the early 80s. Following his departure from Ultravox, Foxx stripped the sound back to just voice and electronics. The stark, at times industrial electronica still sounds like the future, 38 years after the albums original release. That is some testimony to the quality of the material.

johnfoxx

Most people will be aware of the singles Underpass and No-one Driving, but dig a little deeper and there is much more to savour.  He’s a Liquid is a key track, with lyrics that have always made me feel ill at ease.

“She’s elusive
He’s adhesive”

A New Kind of Man ups the tempo and hearing this track, I am instantly transported back to the late 70s / early 80s. A sense of detachment and isolation drip from Foxx’s lyrics on most of the songs on Metamatic. The off-kilter Tidal Wave conjures up the spirit of J. G. Ballard and would have sounded great as part of the soundtrack to High Rise.

Blurred Girl is almost a template of the sound of 1980. The classic Roland CR-78 rhythm and the plaintive synths add a rare warmth to what is often an icy cold musical landscape.

“Standing so close, Never quite touching…”

Touch and Go is probably the most commercial track on the album. I love the way that the synths rise like waves in the songs outro, smoothing the metronomic beat. The end section is by far my favourite musical performance on the album.

“There’s motorway sparks
And meetings in the park
And fires from years ago
You can watch your friends
Through this tiny lens
Then you’ll know that there’s no way home

John Foxx would leave the sound of Metamatic for his next studio albums but returned to the cold electronica for some of his more recent work, particularly with Louis Gordon and The Maths.

Discs 2 and 3 of the deluxe Metamatic are a treasure trove for Foxx fanatics. Disc 2 brings together B sides, radio edit / single mixes, the wonderful single Burning Car and alternative versions of album tracks. Like A Miracle (Alternative Version) is an early version of the song that was released as a single in much fuller form in 1983. Underpass (Extended Version) and Blurred Girl (Longer Fade Version) are another two highlights of the second disc.

Another key track from Disc 2 is My Face, originally a flexi-disc release, and almost acting as a hint to the sound of the second John Foxx album (and my personal favourite) The Garden.

Disc 3 includes 15 instrumentals – some more fully formed than others. The sparse instrumentals are interesting to hear as part of the history of the album, but I don’t think I will return to them often. My favourites on disc 3 include a mournful alternative version of Glimmer, and the haunted ballroom piano of Fragmentary City (that predates the work of The Caretaker aka James Leyland Kirby by several decades).

Disc 3 is rounded off with Miss Machinery, a cold twist on B side 20th Century, a fascinating Giorgio Moroder-like take of No-One Driving, and an early version of Burning Car (with a Fade To Grey like bassline).

Disc 3 ends with a lo-fi Like A Miracle and a warmer , more fully realised and piano under-pinned take on No-One Driving, that feels like it was recorded nearer to The Garden.

This definitive version of Metamatic is released by Metamatic Records on 25 May 2018.

Disc: 1
1. Plaza
2. He’s a Liquid
3. Underpass
4. Metal Beat
5. No-one Driving
6. A New Kind of Man
7. Blurred Girl
8. 030
9. Tidal Wave
10. Touch and Go

Disc: 2
1. Film One
2. This City
3. To Be With You
4. Cinemascope
5. Burning Car
6. Glimmer
7. Mr. No
8. Young Love
9. 20th Century
10. My Face
11. Underpass (Radio Edit)
12. Non-one Driving (Single Version)
13. Like a Miracle (Alternative Version)
14. A New Kind of Man (Alternative Version)
15. He’s a Liquid (Alternative Version)
16. Plaza (Extended Version)
17. Underpass (Extended Version)
18. Blurred Girl (Longer Fade Version)

Disc: 3
1. A Frozen Moment
2. He’s a Liquid (Instrumental Dub)
3. Mr. No (Alternative Version)
4. The Uranium Committee
5. A Man Alone
6. Over Tokyo
7. Terminal Zone
8. Urban Code
9. A Version of You
10. Glimmer (Alternative Version)
11. Fragmentary City
12. Metamorphosis
13. Approaching the Monument
14. Critical Mass
15. Alamogordo Logic
16. Touch and Go (Early Version)
17. Miss Machinery
18. No-one Driving (Early Version)
19. Burning Car (Early Version)
20. Like a Miracle (Early Version)
21. No-one Driving (Alternative Version)

Pre-order Metamatic Deluxe 3-CD from Amazon
meta500








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