Vince Clarke and Martin L. Gore, said the rumour mill, are working together on an electronica album. Too good to be true? Probably… But, surprisingly, it turned out to be true. Only ever having worked together directly once before, on a Depeche Mode album called Speak and Spell in 1981, the two former bandmates got together again thirty years later to release Ssss as VCMG.
The first track is Lowly, which opens with painful and discordant feedback, building into a bouncy electro track. There’s a lot of clear Vince Clarke influence on some of the backing. Zaat is the second track, rather stronger, but with less immediately discernable Clarke or Gore influence on the sound. For me, Zaat is one of the strongest tracks on the album, with rhythmic electronic sounds and beats driving it on for nearly seven minutes.
Spock is up next, the first single (or for some reason “EP” in VCMG terminology), and the one which introduced us to this album initially. It’s also the first of several tracks with names beginning with S, which I suspect gave the album its bizarre name and perhaps also its rather nice snake-pit sleeve. Having myself painted a very nice picture of snakes at the age of five, I particularly appreciated the artwork on this release and its companion EPs.
The wonderfully titled Windup Robot is up next, and it’s also another of the best tracks on the album. After a seemingly uninspired kick-based intro, it opens out over the course of several minutes into a reverberating synth-driven powerhouse, which in the end falls apart very quickly. It’s followed by Bendy Bass, with its deep, never-ending, um, bendy bass line.
Single Blip is up next, the second single, and by far my favourite track on the album. Pleasant though they are, these are in many cases slightly challenging listens, but this, probably the most easily accessible track, is the exception. From its initially glitchy introduction, it builds steadily into a rhythm-driven but also very melodic piece with layered pads and string sounds.
Skip This Track is another great title, although not the most useful advice, with its slightly bizarre robot voices, and it’s followed by third single Aftermaths. On initial listens I’d written this off as one of the weaker tracks on the album, but after listening to the various mixes on the single I came to like it rather more.
The penultimate track is Recycle, which doesn’t quite live up to its name, by sounding much more glitchy and laid back than most of the album, it’s actually pretty unique on this release. Of course, as you’ll have gathered by now, it’s tempting to try and dissect every track, and work out which parts have more Vince Clarke influence, and which were more in the hands of Martin L. Gore. You can hear a lot of the bouncy arpeggiated sounds that typify Clarke’s work, and I wonder in many cases whether Gore was more responsible for some of the deep and dark electro sounds. Either way, I suppose it doesn’t matter much.
Finally, another of my favourites turns up, as Flux closes the album. Again, it’s one of the more accessible tracks, which is probably why I prefer it, but it also closes the album in excellent form.
Apart from Vince Clarke‘s solo Deeptronica album which we’ve discussed here previously, I’ve never owned an album quite like Ssss before. However, I’m glad I do – it’s a whole genre that I know very little about, but there’s clearly a lot of great stuff hidden in there. Like this.