Camouflage – Relocated

German synthpop act Camouflage may have spent much of the late 1980s and early 1990s imitating a selection of your other synthpop acts, but by 2006 they definitely had a sound of their own. Relocated was their seventh album, and it’s probably fair to say that it was their most mature to date.

In general, it takes a similar form to the preceding album Sensor. After Memory, a short instrumental, it launches in earnest with We Are Lovers, which probably should have been a single but definitely wasn’t. Ultimately, as with much of Camouflage‘s output, it comes across as a bit vacuous, but it’s still pretty good. First single Motif Sky takes a similar form – you can see why they picked it as a single, but what on earth does any of it mean?

What Relocated does have going for it is quite an unusual sound and rhythm, and when they let the songs take their own form, that can be pretty effective. Real Thing, for example, is completely unlike anything that anybody else was releasing at this time (and quite possibly since), and therefore easily stands out.

By 2006, the more abstract soft synths such as Absynth were well established, and had started to make headway into the world of music, and Passing By in particular sounds heavily influenced by them, with its churning bass part and heavy filters. There are also strong rock influences, which show their face particularly on Confusion, perhaps the one track on here that seems to be screaming out for some guitars, although of course it sounds no worse for not having them.

A guitar – albeit an acoustic one – does turn up for The Perfect Key, and gives Camouflage the chance to demonstrate that after a decade and a half of making music, they’re actually pretty competent songwriters. As always, the lyrics have suffered a little by being in the wrong language (I’ve never really understood why German bands don’t write more of their songs in their mother tongue), but it’s generally pretty strong.

Another short instrumental Stream gently guides us through to Dreaming, another piece which feels as though it might benefit from some guitar work. It makes for a slightly odd sound, but it does work.

If this album has any real failing, it’s that it has too many tracks – we’ve still only had one of the three singles by this stage, and when the third, The Pleasure Remains, turns up, you’re starting to feel as though this album has been going on for quite a long time. It’s another good song though – again, this is rock-flavoured synthpop with a distinct Teutonic leaning, and that’s a pretty good sound to have.

On it goes. The pleasantly choral Bitter Taste leads to guitar-driven (finally!) second single Something Wrong, and another intrumental, Light. Finally, we get the best track on here, the adorably endless How Do You Feel? Which would have been a great place to end proceedings, but at this stage in their career Camouflage appear to have been unable to just say stop – there are actually hidden tracks at both ends of this album, and Last Contact, tucked away right at the end, is a particularly long one.

But apart from needing a bit of editing here and there, Relocated is a very strong album, particularly for so late in their career. Camouflage have a lot to be proud of, but I wonder if this album might in fact be their best?

Import editions of Relocated are widely available – try here for starters.

Chart for stowaways – 23 July 2016

Possibly not much change from a couple of weeks ago, but here are this week’s top singles:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Twenty-Something
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
  3. Clarke Hartnoll – Better Have a Drink to Think
  4. I Monster – The Bradley Brothers…
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre – The Heart of Noise
  6. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
  7. Clarke Hartnoll – Single Function
  8. Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids
  9. Moby – Slipping Away
  10. Dirty Vegas – Let the Night – EP

Artist of the Week – Erasure

Here’s another old Artist of the Week feature from my old radio show. It probably wasn’t researched very well, and so may contain plagiarism, errors, and omissions. My sincere apologies if so.

The story begins way back in 1981, when Vince Clarke was briefly a member of the gods of electronica Depeche Mode. After the first album, musical differences forced him out of the band, leaving just as their popularity was growing. Following this, he and Alison Moyet formed Yazoo, who saw huge success during their brief but stormy reign over the charts between 1982 and 1983.

After their split, Vince joined with producer Eric Radcliffe to form a group called The Assembly, where the intention was that they would produce tracks with different singers. After one huge hit, Never Never, and one flop, they called it a day.

It was during the auditions for The Assembly project [I’m going to add my own “citation needed” tag here] that Vince first came across singer Andy Bell. They started working together, and had soon completed the first album Wonderland. However, for whatever reason, the debut was never a substantial hit, and only yielded one minor hit single, so it wasn’t until the second album The Circus came out that they were propelled to the top end of the charts by the universal hit Sometimes.

Further albums followed, with The Innocents bringing more success, and, at the end of the 1980s, they turned away from their traditionally analogue sounds to produce Wild!, their second number one album, which also brought them four top twenty hit singles.

For 1991’s Chorus they returned to a very analogue sound to produce what is commonly thought to be their best album to date. Again, a further four huge hits ensued, and in mid-1992, they followed this with an obscure collection of cover versions which brought them their biggest hit to date, the huge summer smash Abba-esque EP.

Their return in 1994 with I Say I Say I Say brought them further hits, but by the mid-1990s, a combination of being overwhelmed by Britpop and spending too much time experimenting meant they were starting to lose their touch. This began in earnest with 1995’s eponymous album, which turned their previous sound on its head with ten-minute instrumentals and ambient tracks.

In 1997 they tried to get a foot back in the door with Cowboy, a collection of 3-minute pop songs, which were widely ignored by the record-buying public. In 2000, they tried to tap the remnants of the indie explosion with Loveboat, a predominantly acoustic guitar-based album, which barely even managed to scrape into the charts.

It was finally last year that they managed their comeback, through the all-too-popular medium of a cover versions album. The wittily titled but frankly awful Other People’s Songs managed to grab them a little bit of the limelight they deserve, and helped their second singles compilation into the top end of the charts.

So what now? Well, they’re still very analogue, and rumour suggests that they’ve now gone all electro on us, following recent successes from the likes of Röyksopp and Mirwais. The album is released on January 24th, preceded by the single Breathe on the 3rd.

New Order – Get Ready

After eight long years of compilations and oddities, New Order came back in 2001 with Crystal. Reinvigorated by their recent side projects with ElectronicMonaco, and The Other Two (all of whom had managed exactly one very good album since 1993; two had also thrown out a less good one too), now they were back together to show the indie music scene how it was done.

Admittedly, they were a little late – they missed the bulk of the indie explosion by a comfortable margin – but they were just in time to turn up, show anyone else who was hanging around that they were largely recording dirges, and then disappear back into whatever hole it is that New Order hide in whenever they’re not releasing things. Well, except of course that the following year actually brought us the brilliant 24 Hour Party People and Here to Stay, but let’s leave that for that another time.

Get Ready is, though, like most of New Order‘s albums, a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Crystal is great, and accessible to many, and 60 Miles an Hour is a competent second track and second single too. Unlike the first, it was probably never going to find them too many new fans, but it kept plenty of people coming back for more.

However, it really is hard to imagine the collaboration with The Smashing Pumpkins‘s Billy Corgan really making too many people happy – it mainly seems to mean that New Order have gained another guitar line and another slightly questionable singing talent. Neither of which was exactly lacking anyway.

New Order being back together was really more than enough of a novelty, and the four-piece proved their brilliance with such understated works of genius as Vicious Streak, which, while not unexpectedly long, somehow seems as though it’s going to last forever. Primitive Notion is good too – much more of a rock piece than New Order ever used to present their fans with, but let’s just agree to see that as another string to their bow.

Admittedly, by Slow Jam you might find yourself dreaming of the beats of Blue Monday. There’s nothing wrong with this one, or Rock the Shack, the collaboration with The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s Bobby Gillespie, but New Order‘s sound was always so unique, whereas on Get Ready they just seem to be trying to find their feet again by trying to imitate what all the indie acts had been doing for the preceding five or six years. It’s not the most comfortable place for New Order to sit.

Get Ready does feel as though they were trying to practice what they preached – the instruction in the title is less for us, and more for them, as they learnt again what they were meant to sound like. When they get it right, as on Someone Like You, they’re absolutely brilliant, but a lot of this album falls a little short. For now, just enjoy how great they are when all the ingredients are right.

Close Range is good – but far from perfect. There are moments on here when it seems as though they’re just dialling it in. Bernard Sumner‘s lyrics are distinctly average (at the low end of the spectrum, it has been pointed out before that Crystal‘s somewhat confusing wording about buying honey with money could have done with a little more work, and there’s nothing on this whole CD that really grabs you and makes you think he’s pushing himself. Peter Hook‘s bass “hooks” seem a bit lacklustre here too.

So it’s really no major disappointment that Run Wild is the last track on here, closing things off with an unusually religious, Midwest American piece. It’s not great, but neither is it too bad either. Like the entirety of Get Ready, really. After Crystal, pretty much the best thing you can say about it is this: we had New Order back.

You can still find the original release of Get Ready at all major retailers.