APOPTYGMA BERZERK: WELCOME TO EARTH (2000)
1) Everything We Know Is Wrong; 2) Starsign; 3) Eclipse; 4) Help Me; 5) Kathy's Song (Come Lie Next To Me); 6) Untitled 3; 7) Moment Of Tranquility; 8) Fade To Black; 9) 64K; 10) Paranoia; 11) Soultaker; 12) LNDP3; 13) Time To Move On.
Big surprise for the fans: Groth's third major release sends a 90-degree push in the direction of the «atmosphere pump». All of a sudden, the sinister, blood-thirsty overtones are gone, replaced by a mellower, much more transcendental sort of vibe. Now our main focus is on the extraterrestrial — aliens, astral forces, all sorts of paranormal crap for people who prefer to get excited on the level of the Milky Way rather than the amazing structure of the blood cell.
For a variety of reasons, not excluding commercial ones, these new ambitions are clad from head to toe in generic techno — almost omnipresent this time, as compared to the much more rhythmically diverse 7. This would not be such a big problem if the emphasis were on experimentation; unfortunately, it is not. Barring the briefer links, all based on samples and collages, there are nine full-length songs on here that behave like songs, and what you are supposed to do is dance and sing along, not clutch your head in amazement, bewildered by the vast array of tones, effects, and tricky modality changes. This is pop music, not Richard D. James.
As pathetically predictable as it could be, my two favourites here — and, in fact, the only two songs I don't mind hearing once again — are the ones that shy away the most from the dum-dum rhythms. 'Moment Of Tranquility' shamelessly steals the main bassline from the Twin Peaks theme (acknowledging this indirectly by quoting a bit of dialog at the beginning), then gradually becomes a «heavenly» synth-pop ballad in the vein of A-Ha, with decent vocal hooks. 'LNDP3' is even better, with a soul-piercing part sung by guest vocalist Nan Pettersen; ironically, it is the only song on the album not written or even co-written by Groth, but rather by part-time partner Vegard Blomberg.
Incorrect, actually: the other non-Groth song is 'Fade To Black', initiating Apoptygma's most famous gimmick — EBM rearrangements of unpredictably chosen classics. (Technically, 'All Tomorrow's Parties' came much earlier, but that was way before Groth's transformation into a real Eurostar). Other than the buildup on the ominous bubbling intro, however, this particular experience is nothing to write home about, and it certainly does not uncover any hitherto undisclosed depth to the Metallica song (and it wasn't even that much of a Ride The Lightning highlight in the first place — but then, perhaps it's a good thing Groth didn't settle on 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' instead).
The album's biggest hit was 'Kathy's Song' — nothing to do with Simon & Garfunkel, and I have no idea who Kathy is (Groth's girlfriend?), but anyway, the song is fairly typical of the rest of the album: simple, unassuming keyboard loops and easily memorable tender harmonies on the endlessly repeated chorus ("Come lie next to me...") that, in and out of themselves, do not make the song all that different from your average Euro-synth-pop with machine-generated «hits». It does not really require a giant leap to go from here to the horror of Modern Talking.
It is hard to call the record a «sell-out», because Groth was never above aiming for mainstream success, and there is really nothing on here that he hadn't already tried — but the sad truth is that the previous two records were far more innovative and adventurous; I would not take it upon myself to convince anyone of the band's worthiness based on Welcome To Earth per se (let alone playing only the hit singles, without 'LNDP3' which is truly this record's saving grace), and I suppose that even without the anti-techno bias, this is all still somewhat flaccid. Thumbs down.
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