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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Cabaret Voltaire: The Conversation


1) Exterminating Angel (Intro); 2) Brutal But Clean; 3) The Message; 4) Let's Start; 5) Night Rider; 6) I Think; 7) The Heat; 8) Harmonic Parallel; 9) Project80; 10) Exterminating Angel (Outro).

Although this is still credited to Cabaret Voltaire, the liner notes explicitly state that the album was "composed, programmed, arranged, and sonically orchestrated by R. H. Kirk", so apparently Mallinder's involvement here was minimal at best — not that you'd really notice, considering that his trademark vocals had been completely absent on the previous two records as well; and truly, there is not a lot of stylistic difference between all three, except for maybe this Conversation showing an even more claustrophobic spirit than ever before.

What the album is really most notable for, though, is its duration — spread across two CDs, with the second one largely consisting of a single 53-minute long collage, ʻProject80ʼ, featuring long samples of movie dialog interpolated with industrial clang-a-bang. The track actually sounds closer in spirit to «classic» Cabaret Voltaire than anything they'd done in a long time, except that there are no signs of returning to a guitar sound — but the effort is on gray dirty noise rather than danceable patterns, with the atmosphere changing from industrial to militaristic to post-stormy ambient and back again several times. It's a bit of an excruciating listen, but perhaps it is accep­table as a last testament of sorts, a pompous reappraisal of the Cabaret Voltaire legacy and all the emotional turmoil it represents for easily impressionable people.

Neither its individual parts, though, nor the much shorter tracks on the first CD lend themselves any easier to description than any bits and pieces on International Language. The two-part ʻExterminating Angelʼ may own its title to a Buñuel movie, but it is neither as suspenseful nor as bizarre as its filmed counterpart — just a set of cloudy tape loops generating a mixed atmosphere of serenity and faraway ominous danger, with percussion overdubs added in the «outro» part so you can dance to the atmosphere of serenity and faraway ominous danger. Likewise, everything else works like smooth, inobtrusive, barely noticeable background muzak that seems to gravitate towards «chill-out» now out of its original «acid» inclinations. Occasionally, there's a touch of something different (ʻThe Heatʼ reworks a reggae groove; ʻHarmonic Parallelʼ lazily stutters along to a relaxed trip-hop beat), but some of the keyboard loops are downright cheesy — the one on ʻBrutal But Cleanʼ sounds like something Modern Talking could find some use for. In other words, the small highs are balanced by equally small lows, and most of the time you get bland background neutrality.

In fact, considering that Kirk's solo albums from the same period, recorded for Warp, are more adventurous on the whole, it is somewhat of a relief that he and Mallinder finally pulled the plug on the Cabaret Voltaire thing later that year. Let's face it — the CV spirit got old and debilitated by the late Eighties, and despite a few last-minute shots of darkness that they tried to administer for Body And Soul, this whole techno thing that they got going in the Nineties was not proper Cabaret Voltaire — and proper Cabaret Voltaire was so tightly bound to the New Wave and mid-Eighties era that there was no way they could artificially stimulate it for a long time anyway. Obviously, if there's something they are going to be remembered by, it will be those albums where Kirk is grinding out his creepy-nasty guitar cobwebs and Mallinder is running from phan­tom dangers through smelly underground sewers. Anything that comes later, no matter how in­offensive or even mildly creative, will be superfluous.

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