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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Apoptygma Berzerk: You And Me Against The World


1) Tuning In Again; 2) In This Together; 3) Love To Blame; 4) You Keep Me From Breaking Apart; 5) Cambodia; 6) Back On Track; 7) Tuning In To The Frequency Of Your Soul; 8) Mercy Kill; 9) Lost In Translation; 10) Maze; 11) Into The Unknown; 12*) Shine On; 13*) Is Electronic Love To Blame?

And here comes change: an album that no one expected from Apoptygma Berzerk except for those wise few who might have suspected it — make Groth drop his techno addiction, if only for once, and he'll finally realize that dark pop masterpiece he had stuck inside himself all this time. Of course, Groth's real fans felt betrayed, because who wants to be forced to start learning new dance steps right in the middle of getting in the groove? But then who cares about a bunch of close-minded ravers anyway? Technically, they were right: You And Me was a sellout, because it sold more than any other Apop record — but all this proved was that the market for «traditio­nal rhythms» is still larger than the market for electronic dance music, and that's juicy good news for all of us nasty conservatives.

Anyway, You And Me is not really a «masterpiece» as such, but rather simply a collection of generally good, catchy, atmospheric pop-rock songs that mix electric guitar and keyboard sounds in well-balanced proportions. Complaints that Groth had sacrificed his vision / originality / idio­syn­crasy in favor of a generic «alternative electropop» (or whatever) sound are possible, but it's not as if the sounds of Welcome To Earth or Harmonizer were all that individualistic either. It would be a problem if all the songs had been faceless, but they aren't.

Some, in fact, have a new face sewn on. Kim Wilde's 1980s hit 'Cambodia' was not a totally bad song per se, but very 1980s — marrying a simplistic, ultra-repetitive hook to simplistic, cheesy keyboards. Groth and Co. took the song, enlivened and tightened up the rhythms, overlaid extra guitar and keyboard tracks, sang the whole thing with verve, and somehow made it timeless. The same applies to 'Shine On', which used to be a hit single for The House Of Love, but no more: Groth now owns the song, raising its status from, say, a measly B- to a far more assured B+, fat­tening up the sound and acting as if this were really some sort of artsy-message song. Which begs the question — why the hell bother writing original material in the first place if the best songs are complex remakes of raw Eighties' material anyway? Where's Bananarama?

The answer is that now Groth writes stuff which sounds exactly that-a-way: dance-pop, Eighties style, but with years of professional experience replacing the fresh aura of kitsch and self-bewil­derment at those out-of-nowhere goofy synth tones that could seduce people back in 1985 but now just sound annoyingly dated, for the most part. 'Cambodia' feels right at home next to 'You Keep Me From Breaking Apart' (a synth-rocker influenced by A-Ha, so it seems, with the guitar-heavy bridge particularly reminiscent of 'Manhattan Skyline') and 'Love To Blame', the album's third single — written in the same manner.

In fact, if there is any real basis for complaint, it's that the formula is almost identical for all the songs: describe one, then copy and paste. But that's how it often goes with pop-rock, and these hooks really work, as if Groth and his new bandmates were honestly inspired with the idea of re­viving generic Eighties music in a better, more meaningful setting, not just using it as a gimmick invented on the spot. And trust me, in these troubled days filled to the brim with Eighties nostal­gia, we've all heard much, much worse than You And Me Against The World. If anything, this musical philosophy may weaken a string or two in one's strung-out hate for the golden age of synth pop. Thumbs up. Oh yes, and some of the videos for the hit singles are worth watching. Groth is quite good at out-emo-ing the youngsters without ever really subscribing to proper «emo» trappings.

Check "You And Me Against The World" (CD) on Amazon
Check "You And Me Against The World" (MP3) on Amazon

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