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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Cabaret Voltaire: Johnny YesNo

CABARET VOLTAIRE: JOHNNY YESNO (1983)

1) Taxi Music; 2) Hallucination Sequence; 3) D.T.'s/Cold Turkey; 4) The Quarry; 5) Title Sequence; 6) Taxi Music Dub.

An interesting diversion — supposedly these tracks constitute a soundtrack to a short movie by Peter Care, one of two little-known quickies he made before establishing an alternate career in the music video business (mostly for R.E.M., but remember, uh, Bananarama's ʻVenusʼ? Apparently that's him, too...). The album itself is probably longer than the movie, though, and functions as a completely autonomous Cabaret Voltaire release, significantly different in style from their usual stuff. It is also the last proper CV album with Chris Watson (who had already quit the band when the record was released, but apparently worked on all the tracks).

I have no idea what the movie was about, or whether this shift in style was caused by the movie or something else, but fact is, Johnny YesNo is a little softer, a little more mysterious, and much better produced than the average Watson-era CV album. Unlike the usual releases, which largely focused on bass/guitar interplay, here the keyboards take a much more prominent position, and the bass grooves are largely absent or reduced to just one or two pouncing notes, like on ʻTaxi Musicʼ — you can dance to it if you want to, but you'll probably end up looking stupid. Kirk's guitar sound remains grumbly and murky as usual, but because of the incessant chirping of the keyboards (main riff is poppy, «lead» melodies are free-form jazzy), the atmosphere is not as de­pressing as could be expected. Indeed, one could picture oneself taking a slow taxi ride through some desolate cityscape, populated with cyborgs and mutants going around their business. Inof­fensive, but entertaining. Entertaining, but overlong — a fourteen-minute taxi ride like that can really wear you down after a while, especially considering that the landscape stays more or less the same throughout.

The shorter tracks are even stronger bent on atmosphere rather than rhythm: ʻHallucination Sequenceʼ places its faith in sonic oscillations that put your mind in some creepy alchemist lab; ʻCold Turkeyʼ is a bunch of gruesome guitar feedback that tries to reproduce the feeling as au­thentically as John Lennon's song of the same name (ugly, but for a reason); ʻThe Quarryʼ is the usual hustle-and-bustle set to the metronomic punch of some mighty earth-burrowing machine; and ʻTitle Sequenceʼ is basically a wild electronic Jew's harp tap-dancing on your spinal cord. No amazing sonic discoveries here, I'd think, but some pretty creative ideas, and even despite the paucity of the tracks, the diversity of these atmospheres could easily compete with the diversity of any regular CV release.

Final verdict — this does belong in the proper discography; it's not merely an auxiliary detour, but quite a serious, autonomous project, not to mention one of the best produced Cabaret Voltaire albums of the early Eighties. But it will hardly be remembered as a milestone in the history of electronics, industrial music, or movie soundtracks.   

3 comments:

  1. >I have no idea what the movie was about, or whether this shift in style was caused by the movie or something else, but fact is, Johnny YesNo is a little softer, a little more mysterious, and much better produced than the average Watson-era CV album.

    From the AllMusic review: "[Y]ou won't find Cabaret Voltaire's original soundtrack here. Instead, paranoid, trippy remixes of the originals from Cabs member Richard H. Kirk are included, along with unreleased material, most of it skeletal and strange. Why the video portion gets the original film along with the remix while the audio portion gets shortchanged is a frustrating question[.]"

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    Replies
    1. This is not a review of the original soundtrack, it is a review of the 2011 boxset "JohnnyYesNo Redux", erroneously attached to the data for the original album.

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    2. Shoulda guessed, with your attention to detail and with AllMusic being AllMusic.

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