Camouflage – Spice Crackers

It’s probably fair to say that however much you like them, Camouflage have suffered from a bit of an identity crisis over the years. From their early days trying to sound as much as possible like Depeche Mode and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, their sound did eventually mature into something special and unique, but it did take a while.

On Spice Crackers, their humour is evident from the opening title track, which includes samples from Wallace and Gromit and Crackerjack. This is an album about interstellar travel and evolution, something of a musical tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey, so you do have to wonder slightly what the title has to do with anything. But why not?

Then comes the single X-Ray, which in its album form is a little tame compared to the manic single version. Spice Crackers was the fifth full-length album for Camouflage, released in 1995, and at this time having a single version remixed by some big name that sounded nothing like the original was all the rage. Sometimes, as in this instance, it worked in their favour. The album version is good, but the single is excellent.

Kraft, also a single, is extremely good. The title is German for “power”, by the way, just in case you were thinking about cheese, and knowing that is key to understanding this track – the whole thing is performed trilingually (if that’s even a word) in English, French, and German. It’s unique, serene, and truly brilliant.

There’s a short interlude for Electronic Music, but clearly Camouflage wanted to get all the singles out of the way as quickly as possible, so it’s the lead single Bad News which comes next. It’s a bit manic, running at maybe 20 or 30 bpm too fast to really be comfortable, but it’s a great song.

Days Run Wild follows, with some curiously synthesized East Asian sounds in the background. Spice Crackers is undoubtedly a concept album, but it’s not always easy to guess quite what the concept is. This particular theme continues with the curiously named A Place in China (Heaven’s Not).

After another short instrumental, another bizarre title follows with Funky Service (What Do You Want to Drink?) There’s clearly some kind of in-joke going on here, of which I’m not a part, but it’s a nice enough piece anyway.

Ultimately, when Camouflage find their sound, they can be very good, and Back to Heaven is a fine example of this. It’s a great piece of electronic music, with a very strong vocal, and a good melody line, which is really all you can ask for.

But as Spice Crackers continues, it seems to become more abstract. Je Suis le Dieu is a very odd almost-instrumental piece, and is followed by Ronda’s Trigger, which is great – in fact it’s one of the best tracks on here, but it is still a little bit incomprehensible.

The lovely closing track Spacetrain follows another short instrumental, and over another pleasant eight minutes or so, brings the album to its end. Spice Crackers is a difficult album – in many ways it feels as though Camouflage were still learning their Kraft, if you’ll pardon the pun. But it’s also very enjoyable, and difficult not to recommend.

The 2009 essential double CD reissue of Spice Crackers no longer seems to be in print, so go for this version, which should still be widely available.

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