Themes From Great Cities
It might have come to your attention that I'm not a regular poster of love and understanding, which you will just have to get used to. I will however, have bursts of creativity where I move completely randomly from post to post with no rhyme or reason. I have recently posted a few singles (7 & 12”) and the odd bootleg which have been received very well by all who visit. More of the same will continue as you, dear readers, seem to be enjoying them.
Some of the rips are my own, but many more are from other blogs and I’m just sharing the wealth. If other bloggers out there wish to share the rips from my posts, please as I do, host them yourself. To combat this, the FLAC files that are over 6 months old will be replaced with MP3 files.
Finally I am happy to re-up old posts where the link has expired. Please comment in the relevant posts comments box.
It’s almost unavoidable when reviewing this 1979 outing, not to start with ‘Cars’ - such is its iconic, classic status. It’s about as perfect and memorable as a pop song could be, with every detail being a polished and catchy affair. Consider the ‘moogy’ beat, the glorious wave of synth, the sprightly bridge, or perhaps simply, Numan’s waling-like-a-banshee vocals, singing a typically paranoid of tale of a protagonist who feels “safest of all” in the shelter of his automobile; it all combines to form about as thrilling and satisfying a 4 minute pop cocktail could ever hope to be.
The record also boasts another classic, in the robotic, electro-pop brilliance taking the form of track number five; ‘M.E.’. Featuring a tune that’s not quite as sublime as the propulsive glory of ‘Cars’, yet still insanely catchy and memorable; ‘M.E.’s status and recognisability was boosted when its melody was heavily sampled by Basement Jaxx for their nonsensical hit ‘Where’s Your Head At?’, years later. It’s driving, robotic force and nervous synth backing proved to be the perfect infectious backdrop to Numan’s familiar paranoid and alienated lyrics: “Now it’s over, but there’s no-one left to see / And there’s no-one left to die / There’s only me”.
‘The Pleasure Principle’ wouldn’t be as revered as it is, if all that was worthwhile was the aforementioned couple of hits, something which the rest of the track list fortunately solidifies. Numan was an early fan of the original Ultravox line-up, whose punks with synthesisers aesthetic, coupled with singer/songwriter John Foxxs’ seeming fascination with machines and technology, rubbed off on an impressionable young Numan who would attend several of the group’s gigs around the London area. Tracks like the grinding, icy-cold ‘Metal’, and the, quite literally mechanical, ‘Engineers’, bares’ witness to this influence especially well, but the album has a predilection for robotic beats and frosty synth flitters in general.
The overall tone of the album, being as frozen, machine-like, and paranoid as it is, may wane on some listeners towards the end, and the fact that the album is a tad samey in places surely doesn’t help in its defence. Take ‘Tracks’ for example - it just doesn’t deviate enough from the areas explored on the first half of the album to seem a worthwhile excursion; and elsewhere a few other niggles are present, with 'Observer' sounding dangerously similar to 'Cars' at times, and 'Conversation' dragging its ‘blurgy’ melody on for too long. Still, they are only minor niggles, and for the most part, said tracks are still very enjoyable, just less so than more distinctive numbers like the nervous, blur of 'Airlane', or the menacingly grim 'Films'.
‘The Pleasure Principle’ is one of the most important and iconic electronic albums of its time, and fortunately, for all the right reasons. Arriving at the tail-end of 1979, the record helped blueprint the way for swathes of other young British groups who were bored of punk and were looking to experiment with new-fangled synthesisers as tools for making pop music. As it turned out, few did it better, with ‘Cars’ becoming a serious chart presence on both sides of the Atlantic, the album reaching number one in the UK, and Numan himself failing to scale the lofty heights he reached here, ever again, with a series of increasingly disappointing albums leading him down a steady slope to cult-status, rather than maintaining the sheer commercial superstardom he managed here. 37 years on, tracks like 'Cars', 'Metal' and 'M.E.' are still blisteringly good, and Numan’s icon has swelled immeasurably since his solo debut, with a mass of covers and remixes of his most memorable songs, and references of influence by the likes of artists such as Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor. In short, ‘The Pleasure Principle’ is a fantastic listen, and nothing less than essential to fans of electronic music at any level, despite one or two minor niggles.
I am going to get this out of the way right from the get-go: this album is FULL on 80s cheese. Plucky synth chords, deep, analogue basses, and Simmons drums are all over the record. From the exterior, it seems like your typical new wave album. But Talk Talk has one advantage; Mark Hollis. Hollis is easily one of the most interesting musicians of our time, and his vocal delivery was unlike any of their contemporaries. Some like to point to Hollis as sounding similar to Bryan Ferry, whose producer coincidently produced this album. While that comparison does hold, Hollis's delivery is very different to that of Ferry's. Hollis sings in a weird mix of a whisper and a shout, and isn't afraid to belt out high notes that drastically alter his voice from its normal sound. It's one of the key traits that make Hollis such a captivating singer to listen too. "Today" best shows Hollis's unique voice, with the beginning verses involve him singing in a lower, whisper voice. But once the background singers scream "Today!" and Hollis belts "It's a dream away!" you immediately notice the difference in his style.
These carry over into other tracks on the record, including the self-titled song "Talk Talk," which feature large drums, and even larger synths. The rest of the record is your typical new wave affair, and all of the tracks have some appeal to them. That is with the exception of "Mirror Man." I have listened to all 5 of the Talk Talk records, and this is, without a doubt, their worst song. It starts out promising enough, but once it gets into the chorus, Hollis and the other background vocalists sound like they are choking, it took me by surprise the first time I heard it. It was annoying to enough to anger me slightly, and I just skipped the track all together. Giving it a second listen, it got slightly better due to the nice synth break during the bridge, and the violins and other strings are a nice touch as well, but not enough to save the song entirely.
If Talk Talk had stopped after It's My Life, they probably would have been a forgotten about synth-pop band that would fade into obscurity like many other small bands of the same genre tended to do. But with their colourful history, the first and second albums stand as an early stage of Talk Talk, that many look at when examining the band as a whole. The Party's Over not only stands as the first music of the later incredible band, but a solid synth-pop album as well.