CABARET VOLTAIRE: THE CRACKDOWN (1983)
1) 24-24; 2) In The Shadows; 3) Talking Time; 4) Animation; 5) Over And Over; 6) Just Fascination; 7) Why Kill Time (When You Can Kill Yourself); 8) Haiti; 9) Crackdown.
Oh, looks like someone's tired of being unjustly confused with a guitar band. Taking their mission one step further, Cabaret Voltaire now place severe restrictions on guitar-based melodies, and plunge into the seductive waters of electronica. The Crackdown is far less noisy than their previous releases — still dark gray, still a disturbing weight on your conscious, but «cleaner» and more polished than it used to be. More sterile, too, you could say.
The opening track, ʻ24-24ʼ, sounds like something Prince could have come up with — the same electrofunky type of rhythm, same drum machine sound, same approach to the mechanics of the groove to get you up and dancin' in that early Eighties style. Except Prince would have made the number all pretty and optimistic, whereas in the hands of Cabaret Voltaire all such grooves become zombie rituals, so we have unsettling lyrics ("turning out, beggars to eat me"), hushed creepy voices, keyboards that sound like marinated church organs, and an atmosphere of total coldness and detachment. These here are the roots of IDM — because if this ain't «intelligent dance music», then what is? (Then again, so was Kraftwerk, so the term is really useless).
Most of what follows is the same: groove after groove, constructed out of dark electronic textures, sometimes peppered with extra ingredients (the brass section on ʻTaking Timeʼ), but always setting the same mood. Actually, mood-wise this new style may be said to work better than the old one: Mallinder's out-of-the-shadow vocals are now higher and cleaner in the mix, and throughout the entire album there's a sense of some magic eye, benevolent or malicious, watching over your shoulder, as you make the journey through the twisted alleys of evil electrofunk. Melody-wise or hook-wise, though, I am not even sure where to begin in an attempt to single out any highlights or simply to talk about the points and effects of any particular track.
The closest thing to a potential «hit» on the record is probably ʻJust Fascinationʼ — as Mallinder moves one step closer to singing than hissing and hushing, the track begins to sound uncannily like classic Depeche Mode, and suddenly, Cabaret Voltaire get access to associations of deep dark sexuality that they never really had before. Bad news, though — they don't know very well how to exploit that, nor do they seem to really want to, so essentially the effort is wasted: not too many horny teenagers would probably make use of The Crackdown in 1983, as compared to Construction Time Again. Then again, Cabaret Voltaire would never stoop to becoming a real pop band, would it? To ensure that nothing of the sort ever happens, they name one of the tracks ʻWhy Kill Time When You Can Kill Yourselfʼ, setting themselves up for lawsuits of suicide propaganda — except, since this record never sold that much, nobody bothered.
Actually, speaking of selling, the album did reach No. 31 on the UK charts — their highest position ever, signifying that the change in style did appeal to the masses to a certain degree. They would quickly rectify this mistake with the follow-up, but whether they were rooting for the money or not, the decision to make a dash for the trendy dance scene of 1983 was clearly conscious, and at least it did not result in them making yet another carbon copy of Red Mecca — even if I cannot say that the new results were any more exciting.
Note also that most of the recent CD editions come with an attached bonus EP, called Doublevision — featuring a studio version of ʻDiskonoʼ and three other tracks that, in stark contrast to this album, are more of a noise-ambient nature (including one called ʻMoscowʼ, with resonating church bells as a distinctive feature — other than that, it seems to represent a post-nuclear war Moscow, which, come to think of it, would be quite an appropriate evil fantasy for 1983). Again, nothing too special, but curious to have as such an ardent counterpoint to the cold dance rhythms of The Crackdown proper.