CABARET VOLTAIRE: THE COVENANT, THE SWORD AND THE ARM OF THE LORD (1985)
1) L21ST; 2) I Want You; 3) Hells Home; 4) Kickback; 5) The Arm Of The Lord; 6) Warm; 7) Golden Halos; 8) Motion Rotation; 9) Whip Blow; 10) The Web.
And here comes another partial reinvention of the Cabaret Voltaire sound / aesthetics. First they were a theatrically spooky avantgarde outfit, then they became a theatrically spooky dance-pop band, and with The Covenant, they become a hilariously surrealistic dance-pop band. Never mind that the title of the album is taken from the name of a recently demolished white supremacist organisation (which is why in the US the record had to be renamed simply The Arm Of The Lord to pass censorpship), or that some of the songs are spiked with excerpts from Charlie Manson's speeches — there are even fewer shivery / creepy moments here than on previous CV albums, and a lot of instrumental color instead.
Personally, I find it totally non-coincidental that the record was released approximately one year after Art Of Noise made a big impact with Who's Afraid Of The Art Of Noise?, because a lot of what's going on here sounds as if Trevor Horn and Anne Dudley were involved with the project (apparently, they were not, but I would totally not be surprised). Bubbly synth bass, as if belonging to kiddie show themes; blasts of synthesized brass instruments, as if coming from sensationalist B-movie soundtracks; spliced, sliced, and mashed vocal overdubs jumping out like jack-in-a-boxes at predictable or unpredictable moments; paranoid percussion — sometimes all of it within the confines of the same track.
Of course, Cabaret Voltaire still retain too much darkness to sound like newly emerged clones of the Art of Noise — Mallinder's vocals, in particular, have not changed much, as he still consistently sounds like a shadow on the run, out of breath but not out of a burning desire to save his life and his sanity despite overwhelming odds. However, there's something controversial in these paranoid vocals now surrounded by bubble synths and occasional stuttery oi-oi-oi vocal overdubs that belong in a post-Monty Python world rather than in the dusty underground of the original Cabaret Voltaire. If you know what I mean.
Unquestionably, they reach the end of that rope with ʻWarmʼ, a track heavily loaded with sexy female moans that you will have problems playing in public — one thing Cabaret Voltaire had never been up to this moment is aggressively erotic, and for a good reason: it is hard to concentrate on erotic thoughts when you are running for your life in dark underground corridors. If the track were at least musically interesting, it might have worked, but its interlocking synth patterns don't sound any different from the average boring synth pop melodies of the time — which, in turn, makes the aahs and oohs seem even more ridiculous. And yet, sexual themes now occupy the band more than ever before: ʻI Want Youʼ, regardless of its title, is said to be about masturbation, for instance (not that any sane person could masturbate at that tempo for an entire four minutes, but who knows? Mallinder and Kirk may have had plenty of experience).
As usual, individual tracks are rather non-descript here: the «Art of Noise aesthetics» is adopted throughout, meaning that no two songs are completely different, and the album as a whole is... well, I am not sure the merger truly works. In their attempt to combine sarcastic darkness with playful absurdism, they sort of downplay the former without justifying the latter — think the same dusty dark corridors as usual, but now they're lighted with bright shiny Christmas ornaments. Why? Well, it just so happens that there's a heavy demand for bright shiny Christmas ornaments these days — it's Christmas season, you see, and you gotta give the people what they want, even if they don't have any intentions to celebrate Christmas at all. I wouldn't go as low as a thumbs down, because this is not a proper «sellout» or anything, but I really don't see much of a point in this album. And it certainly is not made any scarier just by the inclusion of some Charles Manson mumble — most people won't even know it's Manson, and those who will are not going to lose much sleep over it.