ATOMIC ROOSTER: HEADLINE NEWS (1983)
1) Hold Your Fire; 2) Headline News; 3) Taking A Chance; 4) Metal Minds; 5) Land Of Freedom; 6) Machine; 7) Dance Of Death; 8) Carnival; 9) Time; 10*) Future Shock; 11*) Medley: Watch Out / Reaching Out.
With Du Cann completely disillusioned about the band's possible future and jumping ship in 1981, Atomic Rooster managed to hang on a little longer, before once again disintegrating into elementary particles. By and large, the band's last album is a Vince Crane solo effort in all but name. He handles all the keyboards, sings all the vocals (for once!), and writes all of the music and lyrics (with only his wife Jean lending a helping hand with the words on a few tracks); although, technically, this is no less an original «Atomic Rooster» album than the previous one, because old time guitarist Du Cann is out — and old time drummer Paul Hammond is in.
Not that it matters. On Headline News, Crane consciously moves into modern territory. Electronics abound from the very onset, and even if Dave Gilmour himself is credited for some of the guitar parts (along with two other guitarists, Bernie Tormé and John Mizarolli), this fact alone will hardly cause anyone to raise an eye, because the approach here is completely «depersonified». Headline News is an icy cold, moody, un-rock'n'rollish-as-they-come stiff monster of a record, a very far cry from everything this band ever stood for in the Du Cann era. Consequently, unlike 1980's Atomic Rooster, this one is never invoked as a «lost gem» — hardly a surprise, considering the difference between the ecstatic opening riff punch of 'They Took Control Of You' and the slow synth-heavy buildup of 'Hold Your Fire'.
But find the patience to hang on to it for a few more moments — and Headline News may turn out to be the real «lost gem» in Rooster's pedigree, this time, «lost» so deeply that it's hard even to scoop up a positive review from the archives (or, for that matter, any review or mention of this album). With Crane as the only creative force at the helm, Rooster finally turns into his personal vehicle for self-expression, self-exorcising, and self-cleansing. A dark, somber, ominous collection of laments, fears, melancholic observations, and, sometimes, cautious optimism. And all of this, without any exaggerated «Satanism» or intense revelling in one's own schizophrenia.
The odd analogy with Alice Cooper may freely be continued here: if Atomic Rooster was well in line with Alice's brawny, upbeat, New Wave-influenced hard rock records of 1980-82, Headline News makes the same unexpected, even overwhelming jump as DaDa — into a mechanic, ice-cold world with little sympathy or pity for early 1980s record buyers. The incessantly repeated chorus for the fourth song on the LP goes, "Metal minds will keep you warm tonight", and this could be used as the tagline for the entire record — which, while we are at it, has no bad songs whatsoever, because each one is imbued with genuine worries and cares, and when your worries and cares are genuine, they translate into musical hooks quite easily.
Much as I dislike Eighties' electronics on the service of rock veterans, I have no problems when the electronic sound actually matches the planned atmosphere. So the oscillating synth bass creates just the right environment for the mercy-begging anti-war diatribe 'Hold Your Fire'; the bashing electronic drums suit the creepy Gothic ambience of 'Dance Of Death'; and the robotic harpsichord is perfectly fine with the stern, implacable message of 'Time' (yes, another song named 'Time' – not quite up there with Floyd's in terms of artistic cruelty, but definitely grittier and more evocative than either Alan Parsons' or, perhaps, even David Bowie's).
Lighter-sounding numbers include the echoey piano-pop charm of 'Land Of Freedom', with some unbeatable vocal hooks and, for once, uplifting female backup vocals; and the album's one genuine «dance-pop» escapade, 'Taking A Chance', which, with proper care taken, could and should have been on the pop charts that year — unfortunately, the production is a bit too murky and minimalistic to grapple a large audience. (Actually, it was not even released as a single — 'Land Of Freedom' was, which was probably the second best choice). But even these relatively «happy» tunes do not go against context — 'Land Of Freedom' has a disturbing, close-to-paranoid mid-section, and the optimism of 'Taking A Chance', jammed inside all of the darkness, comes across as hopeless and desperate. The very next track is 'Metal Minds', after all, whose aura is the equivalent of acute claustrophobia — with a touch of autism, perhaps.
The effect is curious and creepy — at first, I was ready to dismiss the album, like everyone else, as a mediocre, boring attempt to «fall in» with the post-punk movement, but with each new listen it was moving closer and closer to the category of «depressing confession from Lost Soul No. 9», but with its own individuality, nurtured on a bit of Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley. There is really no other Atomic Rooster album on which Vincent Crane, the troubled sick man, comes out as such a distinct personality, making his death in 1989, from an overdose of painkillers (no one knows whether it was intentional or not), even more ominous. Yes, its overall sound is badly dated, but at least it is badly dated for a reason, unlike quite a few albums from the same year that I could name. Which, I guess, makes it «goodly dated» — with a guaranteed thumbs up. Do not repeat the mistake of ignoring it.
PS: The CD reissue adds a couple extra tracks, including 'Future Shock' that is credited to the band's new guitarist, John Mizarolli; accordingly, it is the only guitar-dominated rocker on the whole CD, and a fairly strong one — that riff may sound generic at first, but its «resolution» is quite inventive, and the guitar tone kicks honest ass. All in all, it is simply amazing how consistent Crane and Co.'s songwriting had gotten at the very end of their tenure — considering that hit-and-miss songcraft was one of AR's major curses throughout their «peak years».
Check "Headline News" (CD) on Amazon