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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Cabaret Voltaire: Body And Soul


1) No Resistance; 2) Shout; 3) Happy; 4) Decay; 5) Bad Chemistry; 6) Vibration; 7) What Is Real; 8) Western Land; 9) Don't Walk Away; 10) Alien Nation Funk; 11) What Is Real.

A correction of sorts: this next installation of The Continuing Saga of Mallinder And Kirk's Journeys In Confusing Electronic Worlds of the Next Generation brings back the spookiness of classic Cabaret Voltaire, if not the rest of the atmosphere. This does not mean that we have to like the album or even waste more than a tiny modicum of time on it, but at least you will not emerge from the listening experience feeling deceived, stunned, and stupid.

This album, unlike its predecessor, probably could be qualified as true «acid» house, since many of the tracks have true psychedelic vibes, mostly generated through creaky, squelchy synth tones and their interaction with the overloud bass lines. Whether it should be qualified as respectable or awesome acid house is a different matter — to me, it still sounds like they are essentially trying to emulate their new teachers, with consistently mediocre results. Any 808 State release from that period, such as Ex:El from that same year, kicks Mallinder and Kirk's ass all over the place in terms of energy and excitement, because these guys have learned the basic trade, but they can only establish the groove: they lack the imagination required to properly ride it.

Of course, this is how they always did it: even in their best period, any five-or-more-minute composition of theirs would sound the same throughout. But now that they no longer sound like a bunch of living ghosts wandering through bombed sewers, and now that the gray, depressing, but at least somewhat exploratory guitar drones have been completely replaced by repetitive synth loops, the atmospheres become thinner, feebler, and far more prone to boring you to death on the very first minute (although at least they are not embarrassing you the way they did on Laidback, Groovy & Nasty). Occasionally they pin the track to a very sharply defined, catchy keyboard riff and some repetitive vocal mantra (ʻDon't Walk Awayʼ), slapping «commercial potential» on the song, but then I am not quite sure of the emotional content of the hook. It's still far more «body» than «soul», you understand.

I am a little partial towards the first track, ʻNo Resistanceʼ, which seems to betray more work and inspiration than almost anything else here — a nice combo of overdubs, with paranoid bubbly synth bass, Latinized percussion, «magic room keyboards», Mallinder's disturbed whispers, and occasional avantgarde piano breaks almost succeeding in restoring the classic old paranoia by entirely new means. However, everything that follows feels either inferior in execution or follo­wing some entirely different (and boring) purpose other than letting you know how confused and scared of the ways of the world these guys are (which is, after all, their only legitimate reason for musical existence). Nice bass on ʻShoutʼ, ʻHappyʼ, and other tracks, but no instrumental hooks, and the endlessly repeated vocal mantras get annoying real quickly.

Every once in a while, they interrupt the never-ending paranoid-dance party with either a message of atmospheric astral noise (ʻDecayʼ) or a piece of blissful ambience (ʻWestern Landʼ, which sounds as if Eno were hiding around the corner), but those interludes are really only there to give you a break from toe-tappin', foot-stompin' obligations; the last time Cabaret Voltaire were syste­matically engaged in the production of noise was even before the release of their first LP, and the last time they were systematically interested in beautiful-sounding ambience was... never, so the probability of their making a mark on the genres here is about the same as if Paul McCartney, way past his prime, suddenly decided to tread on the turf of death metal (which would at least be far more novel).

As it is, by the time we get to ʻWhat Is Realʼ, terminating the experience with seven minutes of a continuously looped six-note keyboard riff eating your brains out, all you have learned is that switching to «proper» acid house did not automatically transform Mallinder and Kirk into song­writing geniuses. However, for objectivity's sake I do have to add that I am no expert on house music, much less acid house music, and occasionally find even alleged masterpieces dull and pointless, so be independent, try ʻNo Resistanceʼ for starters and feel free to allow yourself to get all wowed and awed by the rest — perhaps I just «don't get it», classic style.

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