It only seems like yesterday that Bent‘s debut album launched, but in fact it was fifteen years ago already that the beautiful, eccentric, laid back sounds of Programmed to Love were drifting across the airwaves for the first time.
The album begins with the brilliant showcase Exercise 1. Everything that you’re going to love is here, from the sweet swelling pad effects and bonkers vocal samples, through to the overwhelming sense of happiness it brings. It’s difficult to listen to Bent without an enormous smile on your face.
This is an album that drifts, as Exercise 1 mixes into the sweet but short Laughing Gear, and then the exquisite Private Road, with our first taste of Zoë Johnston‘s superlative soft vocals.
Cylons in Love offers our first taste of another key side of Bent, the lead vocal part sampled from an ancient recording, probably on vinyl. A lovely processed vocal part comes in to make the piece a duet, and works remarkably well.
It just seems to keep flowing, with the serene I Love My Man, and the slightly daft but fun instrumental Invisible Pedestrian. All the way through Programmed to Love, the sillier moments balance out the prettier ones, and sometimes, as on Chocolate Wings, they also converge. And even at its most bonkers – the pair of Wrong Rock and I Remember Johnny are a prime example – it’s still a lot of fun.
There’s a point just over half way through where everything comes together perfectly, as the perfect Swollen is followed by Welly Top Mary, then the ironically named Irritating Noises, A Ribbon for My Hair, and Always. If this isn’t an album of contrasts, then that’s only because it’s an exceptional piece when viewed as a whole.
Both of the full singles from this album, Always and Swollen are truly wonderful, the latter including a remix from François Kevorkian which is, of course, well worth hearing. In their album form they are six and seven minutes long respectively, and are entirely deserving of the space they have been given. You don’t often find music to this standard.
Closing this version of the album comes the pairing of Toothless Gibbon and Exercise 2, neither of which would have changed the world on their own, but they do close out an excellent album in a suitably bonkers manner. Ultimately Programmed to Love was just the start of an extremely strong career for Bent, but if this is all you remember them for, then that’s really no bad thing. Essential listening.
The 2002 version of Programmed to Love that we’ve reviewed here doesn’t appear to be as widely available any more – if you’re stuck, just grab whichever version is available to you, and go with that!