Recoil – Liquid

In 2000, Alan Wilder‘s former bandmates in Depeche Mode would have been polishing off Exciter, their cheeriest album in decades. Wilder, meanwhile, with his deeply experimental Recoil pseudonym, was still exploring altogether darker territory.

The album is bookended by Black Box, also available as a b-side in its complete fourteen minute form. It’s a short story, but sounds more like an account of a failed laboratory experiment, and after the wonderfully grizzly previous album Unsound Methods (1997) it does seem to herald something very different. Until, that is, the first proper track starts, as Want sees a return of the enchanting murmured vocals that characterised so much of the previous album.

Something is a bit different, though – the guitars and drums are cleaner; even the feedback sounds more refined. But none of that can entirely prepare you for the third piece Jezebel.

It’s an easy song to love, once you’ve got your head around it, but after a couple of albums of late night electronica, the mix of southern blues vocals alongside Recoil‘s background synth frippery does come as something of a surprise. This was, of course, the same period when Wilder’s former collaborator and labelmate Moby was doing similar things all over the radio and TV, so perhaps it shouldn’t be quite so unexpected.

After JezebelLiquid is a good album, but it never quite seems to hit those heights again. It’s all entirely competent and very enjoyable – Breath Control is another gloriously filthy piece, and then Last Call for Liquid Courage, driven by some beautifully acidic 303 sounds, is great too, but they don’t quite grab you in the way Jezebel did.

Second single Strange Hours does come close. It’s another bluesy vocal, which might be why, or it could just be the brilliantly trippy percussion and haunting samples. Either way, it’s definitely one of the standout tracks on here.

The emotive Spanish vocals on Vertigen come as something as a surprise too, but it’s one that’s ultimately forgotten alongside the flippant beats and vocals of Supreme, which makes for a late highlight. It mixes into Chrome, which grows very steadily over its seven minute duration from something enjoyable into something entirely brilliant.

Part 2 of Black Box brings the album to a close in suitable fashion, with haunting synth and ambient samples backing up more of the short story. Like everything else you’ve heard on here, it’s beautiful and bizarre, and also very good indeed.

Ultimately Liquid turns out to be one of Recoil‘s most consistent albums, although you may find you can’t really name or remember much apart from Jezebel when it comes to an end. On the other hand, Jezebel is definitely one of Alan Wilder’s finest hours, and there are plenty of other enjoyable moments on here, so it’s definitely worth owning a copy.

You can still find Liquid at all major retailers, for instance here.

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