CABARET VOLTAIRE: CODE (1987)
1) Don't Argue; 2) Sex, Money, Freaks; 3) Thank You America; 4) Here To Go; 5) Trouble (Won't Stop); 6) White Car; 7) No One Here; 8) Life Slips By; 9) Code.
This, I believe, is where it makes all kinds of sense to jump ship. If The Covenant made at least superficial efforts to preserve Cabaret Voltaire's psycho atmosphere, Code just drops it all in favor of a completely redesigned, rebranded, glossed-up sound that makes Cabaret Voltaire no different from dozens, if not hundreds, of artists in the electro-pop genre. Their reliance on «Art Of Noise aesthetics» continues unabated, but there are no signs of a newly found sense of humor, and there is nothing offered to truly delight the senses.
Track after track, everything on Code sounds the same: thick synthetic bass, electronic percussion, ornamental synthesizers, and Mallinder's "peril's-always-round-the-corner" vocals that we would love to hear resolve themselves in a mighty scream at least once — suspense is fine, but not when it lasts forever; eventually, it ceases to be suspense and becomes routine. If Mallinder and Kirk were masters of the pop hook, things could be brighter; they are not, though, and neither do they qualify as masters of the electronic groove.
It does not really get any better or any worse than the first track. Like the Manson-soaked tracks on Covenant, ʻDon't Argueʼ tries to brew up a feeling of danger and paranoia by sampling dialog from Your Job In Germany, Frank Capra's «training» movie for GIs who occupied Germany in 1945, with stern "you will not be friendly... you will be aloof..." warnings scattered all over the track. Problem is, the remaining parts of the track are simply too emotionally weak to be compatible with Capra's genuinely serious overdubs. What are they trying to scare us with — the bubbly bass? The thin, wimpy, string synths? The hushed multi-tracked vocal melody? Yes, it is objectively «paranoid-sounding», but for all these much-clichéd tricks, you can clearly feel that the major focus is on the danceable rhythm, not the atmosphere that goes with it. In fact, remove the film overdubs and it's like... third prize in the local «create-your-own-Prince-groove» high school competition or something. Useless, really.
And with that heavy feeling, you discover the second track (ʻSex, Money, Freaksʼ) and you find out that its vibe is pretty much the same. All the ingredients are the same — and the final effect is the same: danceable, for sure, but artistically bland. Third, fourth, fifth track... all the same, all the way to the end. Honestly, I have not the faintest idea why anybody should have listened to this back in 1987, let alone now. Thumbs down, and let's be done with it, because other than a bunch of expletives, I cannot think of anything else in the constructive vein.