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Way Out West – We Love Machine

There’s something about the energy of Way Out West‘s music that always makes them particularly compelling. We Love Machine may be exactly ten years old today, and it may not have performed particularly well on the commercial stage a decade ago, but it’s still a driven, and memorable album.

It opens with title track We Love Machine, an electronic dance piece with occasional broad guitar strokes and atmospheric electro sounds. The strumming and tribal drum interludes are spaced perfectly apart among synth swirls and feedback-laden squelches. It may seem a little aimless, but it’s also beautiful in its way.

In spite of that, it doesn’t really prepare you for the second track, One Bright Night. There’s a sparkling, starry background, with melodic chimes playing in the foreground, before it grows into a hint of a tantalisingly beautiful song. Choral echoes gradually build towards something quite exceptional. Bluntly, I’m not sure it ever quite fulfills its promise, but it’s still an extremely good, sweet and gentle piece.

This is not, in a way, a style of dance music that you really hear much now – and it probably wasn’t around much in 2009 either, which may explain why this album didn’t perform too well. Only Love was actually the lead single, but despite a few disco elements now and then, it has relatively little to offer. Bizarrely, this is not a particularly commercial album, in spite of having all the right sounds and beats – but it is a delicate honing of Way Out West‘s sound, that’s more polished than most of the albums they released in the 1990s.

So the punchy, somewhat crunchy sound of Bodymotion does help, and while it isn’t perhaps as soft and gentle to listen to, at least as the first two tracks, it is a fun, bouncy, electronic track, for the most part. The vocals are a little lacklustre though, to be fair – it sounds like a less good version of Moby‘s Bodyrock. The panpipe breakdown is fun, if nothing else.

Pleasure Control is a pleasant, beatsy instrumental, which, while it doesn’t have a lot to offer by itself, makes for a nice inbetween moment, steering the album back onto course. It would probably sound amazing on a small-press acetate 12″, played in a club, and sounds good here too, but somehow doesn’t quite seem to meet its full potential.

That’s a bit of a theme here, actually. Future Perfect was another single, and again feels like a case where maybe the single would have worked better than the album. Its deep, hypnotic beats are great, but do seem to be screaming out to be heard in a particular environment, where sitting down, listening to the music in its raw state, and trying to write a review, turns out not to be particularly easy. It’s not at all that this is a bad album – just that it maybe requires a certain state of mind before the listener turns it on, which isn’t necessarily entirely fair on the reviewer.

There are more accessible moments, of course – Survival is more of a dance-pop crossover track, with huge organ pads. It’s good enough to make it worthwhile to buy this album, although somehow I’m finding that it seems to mean a lot less to me now than it did when I first heard it.

Even the longer instrumentals aren’t too dull – Ultra Violet is a deeper house track but has some punchy and atmospheric synth work, and rippling bass parts that lift it up from just being another house track. Tales of the Rabid Monks is catchy, if somewhat forgettable.

But every so often, there is a track that makes you prick up your ears. Final single Surrender is one of these – the understated vocal is good, but nothing special – it’s really just an accompaniment to the huge house beats, but the phased lead synth lines that drift in and out are brilliant. If slightly chilled out, trippy house music is your thing, this is a great example.

Of course, not everything can stand out like this. The Doors Are Where the Windows Should Be is an entirely competent instrumental, and Tierra Del Fuego is a sweet, dreamy piece, also free of vocals, but honestly it’s difficult to keep focus at this end of the album. It’s good, and it definitely has its moments, but some of them seem best kept in 2009 now.

You can still find We Love Machine at all regular retailers.

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Chart for stowaways – 17 August 2019

Here’s the singles chart for August:

  1. Frances Barber & Pet Shop Boys – Musik (Original Cast Recording) – EP
  2. Hot Chip – Hungry Child
  3. The Beloved – For Your Love
  4. The Beloved – Deliver Me
  5. Tiësto/Jonas Blue/Rita Ora – Ritual
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Agenda EP
  7. David Bowie – DJ
  8. Hot Chip – Melody of Love
  9. The Future Sound of London – Yage
  10. The Beloved – Ease the Pressure

Liza Minnelli – Results

I think I had always imagined that Liza Minnelli‘s pop career started with Results, and it is, but it turns out it was actually her ninth album in total, and one of her last. Pet Shop Boys were at the top of their game at the time

It opens with I Want You Now, a Pet Shop Boys composition that’s delivered with irritatingly theatrical flair. As with much of this album, the instrumentation comes from Pet Shop Boys‘ 1989 live tour crew, which leads to an eclectic sound at times. This isn’t, honestly, a great opening track, though – at least not for Pet Shop Boys fans – think about it, at this point they had just released their intriguingly dark dance album Introspective, and now this odd excursion into theatrical pop?

Things look up with the second track, Losing My Mind, later re-recorded with a less flamboyant and more nasal vocal by Neil Tennant and included as the b-side to their single Jealousy. It’s theatrical too – it’s a Stephen Sondheim composition – but the production here lifts it and makes it every bit as good as any Pet Shop Boys cover version. For Minnelli, it was her biggest hit, peaking at number 6 in the UK.

If There Was Love (“were there love,” surely?) is next, not necessarily a song that you could imagine Neil Tennant singing, but one that might have even fitted on the second side of Behaviour. Results is undeniably the sum of its part – you have Liza Minnelli with her theatrical influences, and Pet Shop Boys caught somewhere in the late 1980s, between the dance sounds of Introspective and the sombre mood of Behaviour.

So Sorry, I Said is lovely – there really isn’t any other way of describing it. The album’s third single in late 1989, it wasn’t much of a hit. That should have been obvious, really – the 7″ version was just the album version, which is downtempo to say the least – but it’s a sweet, appropriately apologetic song.

Don’t Drop Bombs isn’t exactly the polar opposite of the preceding track, but for the first time on here it’s really a full-on pop song. This is the sound of Pet Shop Boys truly collaborating – it could have been a perfectly good song of theirs, but as a Liza Minnelli song, it fits her well too. And while it may not be the best track ever recorded, with its huge eighties snares, it isn’t at all bad either.

There are a few unexpected tracks on here, and the cover of Tanita Tikaram‘s Twist in My Sobriety is one of them. What it really underlines is that the original song was great, and while I have no memory of what it sounded like for Tikaram, it works well for Minnelli. Even the whistling is forgivable, under the circumstances.

Less forgivable is the cover of Rent, with an orchestral arrangement by Angelo Badalamenti, who, as the silent partner on It Couldn’t Happen Here a couple of years earlier had helped provide one of the most beautiful moments of Pet Shop Boys‘ early career. Here, somehow his work has worked with the overbearing vocal delivery and butchered what was a beautifully melancholic track by turning it into a tacky showtune. It’s gaudy, and somehow even manages to sound insincere. It’s hard to imagine how this song could have turned out worse.

But that’s as bad as this album gets – final single Love Pains was a flop, but covers a disco classic, now as a Hi-NRG track. I could do without the key change under the circumstances, but it’s not bad. Then the cover of Tonight is Forever, from Pet Shop Boys‘ first album Please, is somewhat over-the-top, but works well, and is definitely well placed as the penultimate track on here.

Finally, I Can’t Say Goodnight is a new Pet Shop Boys composition, a broad jazzy, summery song, which has clearly been written especially for this album. Courtney Pine‘s saxophone solo in Left to My Own Devices on the duo’s 1989 tour may have been interminable, lasting for several decades at least, but his work here is well placed, and complements the vocals and backing well. The slow 6/8 rhythm gives it a typically murky feel which works well. It’s a good closing track.

Pet Shop Boys have since described Results as a PSB album with Liza Minnelli on vocals, and that isn’t unfair. In a sense, that means it will satisfy nobody, as fans of neither act are really likely to cross paths often, but even so, there are moments on this album when it works pretty well, so it shouldn’t be ignored outright.

You probably don’t need the 4-disc remastered edition of Results, but it’s certainly definitive – and can be found here.

Chart for stowaways – 20 July 2019

This is our album chart for July:

  1. Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
  2. The Future Sound of London – Yage 2019
  3. Kylie Minogue – Step Back In Time – The Definitive
  4. Erasure – Wild!
  5. Lighthouse Family – Blue Sky In Your Head
  6. New Order – (no12klg17mif) New Order & Liam Gillick
  7. Madonna – Madame X
  8. Divine Comedy – Office Politics
  9. Tycho – Weather
  10. Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun – A New Beginning

Delerium – Spheres II

Reviewing early Delerium is always a bit of a challenge. Prior to Silence, the vast majority of their work was dark, spacious, instrumental, a little industrial, and very different indeed from everything that came after.

Morphology is a case in point – among the long pad swells and growling acid bass line are periodic industrial beats and obscure spoken word samples, and just generally nine and a half minutes of musical space. It isn’t beautiful, exactly, but it is very good.

What’s interesting, in a way, is how similar it is to the later material, though. The big change was the addition of vocalists – firstly just on a couple of tracks with Semantic Spaces (released an astonishing two weeks earlier), and by Karma (1997) and Poem (2001) on pretty much every track. But other than that, the sounds and style on Spheres II is actually very similar.

It’s easy to forget that Delerium was, for those first five years, pretty much just a side project of the much more successful industrial, almost electro-metal act Front Line Assembly. By the end of 1994, Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber already had eight albums to their name under that moniker – but they had also released as many albums again as Delerium, and were showing no sign of slowing.

Lacking the vocals, though, makes this all seem a bit more lacking in direction. Transhumanist is driven by a slow, churning acid bass line. You can see how this outlet for broader, longer, tracks would have appealed to Leeb and Fulber, and so the change that came next is all the odder, in a way.

Having started out with two albums in 1989, one in 1990, another two plus a huge EP / mini-album in 1991, they were already pretty prolific right from the start. Oddly, they had then disappeared for three years, one assumes working hard on writing and recording what would become Spheres (February 1994) and Spheres II (September 1994). Then in the meantime, they also recorded Semantic Spaces (August 1994), which added their first vocalist and paved the way for Karma, and ultimately the mega-hit Silence.

That would be, for anybody, a pretty odd release schedule, and quite why they didn’t decide to hold Semantic Spaces back a few months is a bit of a mystery to me. You can only assume that they decided they liked the new direction better, and decided to rush-release the remaining old stuff before launching in too deeply. But either way, I think it’s safe to see Spheres II as the closing piece of that early era – even if it actually appeared a little after the new one started.

Shockwave is an oddly titled piece – you want it to be huge and explosive, but it’s a gentle, tentative, and drifting piece with weird glitchy vocal samples and hard stereo mixing.Four minutes or so in, it grows into a beautiful, pad-filled, glitchy analogue piece. Some of Delerium‘s early material is so vague that it’s pretty much inaccessible to most listeners, but this is an exception.

It never really stops being pleasant, though – Dimensional Space, one of the shortest tracks on here, clocking in at a mere five and a half minutes, is broad, expansive, and populated mainly by pads. It’s almost orchestral in the way it plays out, although I’m not sure quite how this would play out if an orchestra tried to repeat it.

Hypoxia is great – probably my favourite track on here, actually – it has a wonderfully analogue eighties feel at times, with plinky plonky sounds and softer, less industrial sounding drums. It grows into a huge, Blue Monday-esque choral pad. It’s brilliant – in fact, the only thing I’d change would be the name – as I understand it, hypoxia is a state of panic and anxiety caused by oxygen deficiency. That’s an industrial title – this track feels neither panicked nor anxious to me.

Otherworld is the shortest track in here, although still nearly makes five minutes. It’s a sweet, rippling synth piece, with simple but pleasant chords played by pads, and oddly reverberating chimes. And finally comes In Four Dimensions, which starts with an almost ticking clock, before oddly growing into a weird, Amazonian piece, sampling heavily from Recoil‘s debut 1+2 EP. It’s long – so long, actually, that it’s hard to really enjoy over its full twelve and a half minute duration. It has moments that lift it, such as the rippling synth arpeggio half way through, but it’s not, on the whole, the most exciting closing track ever.

To describe Spheres II as the best of Delerium‘s early material would be a leap for me, as I simply don’t know the rest of it well enough. It does feel more like a compilation than a decisively sequenced album, which lends credence to the idea that it might have been a rushed release. It is mature, though, and well produced – this, to me, is the sound of a duo who know what they’re doing and are comfortable with their sound, but are just in a bit of a hurry to get it out of the way so they can move onto something else.

You’ll struggle to find it new, but second hand copies of Spheres II are widely available.

Chart for stowaways – 22 June 2019

Moving into June now, here’s an update from the singles chart:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Agenda EP
  2. The Future Sound of London – Yage
  3. The Beloved – Your Love Takes Me Higher (Evil Mix) / Awoke
  4. Mark Ronson feat. Lykke Li – Late Night Feelings
  5. Marshmello feat. Chvrches – Here With Me
  6. Ladytron – Horrorscope
  7. Kraftwerk – Trans Europa Express
  8. Jean-Michel Jarre – Flying Totems
  9. David Bowie – Boys Keep Swinging
  10. Tiesto / Jonas Blue / Rita Ora – Ritual