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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Cabaret Voltaire: The Voice Of America


1) The Voice Of America / Damage Is Done; 2) Partially Submerged; 3) Kneel To The Boss; 4) Premonition; 5) This Is Entertainment; 6) If The Shadows Could March; 7) Stay Out Of It; 8) Obsession; 9) News From Nowhere; 10) Messages Received.

A little better produced than Mix-Up, perhaps, but not much different in mood, style, or effect, The Voice Of America is a fairly distorted idea of America, I would say, as seen from the per­spective of this ever-so-English band. If we are to believe in this, «America» in 1980 was a post-apocalyptic half-bore, half-nightmare, a gray, desolate place populated almost exclusively by robotic mutants communicating through digital signals and tape loops. There would hardly be any place for a Prince or a Michael Jackson or even an Olivia Newton-John in such an America — then again, we could always make the argument that Cabaret Voltaire, with their eye in the sky, were able to see right through all these skins and quickly get to the essence.

Anyway, The Voice Of America is not nearly as unlistenable as some sources would have you believe. Ever so often, a track will start out with a blast of noise that seems to be coming out of a freshly bombed electrical substation — but then it quickly subsides in favor of yet another cozy little robotic groove, going pssht-pssht (that's «C.V. soft rock») or thwack-thwack («C. V. hard rock») or twang-twang (that's «C.V. impersonation of Australian aboriginal music»), with enough diversity to keep you believing that it is not the exact same psycho-image that never stops flowing through their brains while they're busy getting on tape. Whether this is a correct belief, I am not sure — in the end, all these recordings still seem to serve the same purpose.

The band only becomes truly unlistenable when it abandons its rhythmic base to make room for some free-form improvisation — ʽPartially Submergedʼ sounds like a rusty old see-saw swinging back and forth, while a pair of aspiring, but tonedeaf sax players are practicing like mad within the confines of the same abandoned playground. Not as nasty as it could be, but I can promise you some fairly ugly sounds here; the rest of the record is far more musical, sometimes even hummable, even if you have to wait to the very end to get to the only actual «song» — ʽMessages Receivedʼ. That one would seem to be a conscious imitation of classic Joy Division style, but with shitty distorted guitar noise replacing discernible melody.

Everything else is mildly cool — somewhat tame by the old Krautrock standards, and frequently spoiled by the vocals (I think the album would have worked better as a completely instrumental set, but I guess those brutal «young punk» intonations were very much a genre convention around 1980), but not without its own bit of decadent-robotic charm. However, you can still feel they are in their boot camp stage at the moment: they have the style all figured out, but none of the com­positions have any sense of purpose — mostly, it's just experimentation for the sake of it, a use­ful, but not too artistically relevant exploration of new studio possibilities. For instance, on ʽNews From Nowhereʼ they discover that they can imitate racing cars with their instruments, and then proceed to do exactly that for two and a half minutes, like little kids who just discovered a bunch of awesome buttons. Kinda cool, but that's what the word «dated» is for. Another short track is called ʽIf The Shadows Could Marchʼ — to be honest, sounds more like ʽIf The Shadows Could Trotʼ, but there's no sense in arguing over associative thinking; the important thing is, it's fifty-five seconds of not-too-threatening electronic pulses, and that's that.

The good news is that most of the stuff, as usual, is danceable, and even today you could safely use this stuff at any electronic rave party with a retro fetish. But the bad news is that even with all the grooves and the toe-tapping, they are still boring, and their appeal is at best purely intellectual. Unless you make a point of collecting early Eighties' electronics and avantagarde stuff, The Voice Of America is perfectly skippable.


  1. Err, hang on. Did the Byrds end at TNBB? Where's the SOTR review? I don't follow the FB group, so I may have missed an announcement.

    1. Given that the Budgie reviews were being posted on Sundays, with the new format there were seven bands for six days. I guess George will resume with The Byrds once he's done with Butterfield.