Here’s an old selection from the energetic Apollo 440:
This is almost the last of our old Artist of the Week reprints. This one dates back to 2005, and as usual, is full or errors, omissions, and hyperbole.
Liverpool has long been known as a hotbed of inventive and eccentric new music. Apollo 440 may not be a widely known name on this scene, but their tracks are considerably better known than their name. They started recording and remixing at the start of the 1990s, shooting to fame with their 1993 single Astral America, which brought them a huge hit single. The brilliant album Millennium Fever followed the subsequent year, but failed to break them into the mainstream.
It was with the second album Electro Glide in Blue that they truly entered the mainstream, with the singles Krupa and Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Dub shooting them into the upper end of the charts. The following year their updated theme for the film Lost in Space brought them another huge hit. ·
One of their greatest strengths, however has always been their haunting soundtrack music. Some of the score to Lost in Space was their work, they also composed the soundtrack for the game Rapid Racer, and following the third album High on Your Own Supply, released in 1999, they scored another huge hit with the theme to the first Charlie’s Angels film.
Further huge hits followed, with Stop the Rock and Heart Go Boom both gracing the upper end of the charts, as well as their duet with Jean Michel Jarre on Rendez-Vous 98.
Their return in 2003 was sadly rather less of a success. After nearly four years working on the fourth album, the double CD epic Dude Descending a Staircase was released, but failed to make any impact on the charts whatsoever. The single of the same name was a minor hit, but in many ways lacked the impact of their earlier works.
Let’s be clear about one thing from the start: Apollo 440 are, or at least were, for an album or three, very very good indeed. And 1997 saw them pretty much at their pinnacle.
Their second album Electro Glide in Blue opens with a sublime short instrumental Stealth Overture, before launching in earnest into the second single Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub. Largely built around a Van Halen sample with some lively drum and bass affectations, it’s both iconic and great, although I suspect if you weren’t there in 1997, it would be more than a little difficult to understand why.
Altamont Super-Highway Revisited is next, perhaps one of the weaker tracks on here, but it bounces along pleasantly enough until we get to title track Electro Glide in Blue, a dark eight-and-a-half minute odyssey full of self-doubt and angst.
From one epic to another, Vanishing Point is next, a gentle drum and bass piece with enormous vocal pads and even bigger bass. While most people were busy hanging around being sultry in soundalike indie bands, Apollo 440 were to be found creating seven or eight minute electronic opuses.
That is not to say that guitars don’t have their place here, as Tears of the Gods demonstrates, with a great vocal from Charles Bukowski, but the guitar work here is altogether more soulful than what most people were throwing around in the mid-1990s.
Final single Carrera Rapida is next, the theme from a computer game called Rapid Racer, and the single came with a great CD containing all the background music from the game, all built around the theme of this track. By itself, it’s lively, but probably not the best thing on here.
Then comes the lead single Krupa, an homage to a drummer called Gene Krupa, and so the focus of the piece is largely the drumming, with a couple of repeated synth lines over the top. It’s entirely unexpected, but very good nonetheless.
Following a quieter moment with White Man’s Throat, the finest moment on the album comes with the glorious Pain in Any Language, featuring Billy Mackenzie on vocals. It’s another long one, clocking in at nearly nine minutes in duration, but right from the start the slightly Asian sounding chimes and emotive vocals really make you feel something special.
That only leaves us to return to the beginning for an enormous pseudo-classical piece Stealth Mass in F#m, which with its choral vocals seems slightly out of place, unless you’re happy to accept that Apollo 440 were really just doing whatever they wanted here, a fact which is comfortably backed up by the bonus track on the end, the other single Raw Power, a hugely energetic piece that shakes you up rather after the gentler ending which preceded it.
All told, though, Electro Glide in Blue is a great album – if you’re missing the context of what it meant in the 1990s, you might find it helps to put some pictures of Tony Blair and the Spice Girls on the wall, and then you’ll definitely understand. Fantastic stuff.
You can still find Electro Glide in Blue at all major retailers.
Produced by Apollo 440, Addicted to Bass was the only single of note for Puretone, peaking at number 2 back in 2002:
As we worm our way gently into 2016, it’s time to highlight a few reviews from this blog that you might well have missed.
- Apollo 440 – Gettin’ High on Your Own Supply
- Delerium – Poem
- Dusted – Safe from Harm
- Erasure – Wild!
- Goldfrapp – Supernature
- Kraftwerk – Computerwelt
- Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Junk Culture
- Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder – Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder
- Röyksopp & Robyn – Do It Again
- Various Artists – Drive
Apollo 440‘s Liquid Cool may be a slightly unusual concept for a piece of music (some versions use the subtitle “Theme for Cryogenic Suspension”), but there’s something rather uplifting about the epic track, with its enormous choral backing and reverberating guitar solos.
I chose to start this Vinyl Moment with Side B of the 1993 Rumble EP, which also sounds particularly fantastic on vinyl. Disappointingly though, this version of Liquid Cool only clocks in at ten and a half minutes, rather than the album’s twelve, so I flipped the disc over for the non-album Hydraglide, a tribal piece which plods on sedately for six minutes or so.
If vinyl has become something for the hipster generation, then listening to a 1990s dance band from before they were famous is probably a slightly unusual way to express oneself. Fortunately, even a relatively dull track like Hydraglide sounds amazing. Why did we ever switch to CDs in the first place?
From the beautiful 12″ picture disc of Astral America, I chose the first track, Spirit of America. Watching a foot-sized round American flag spinning round on your record player is particularly satisfying, and actually the sound quality isn’t nearly as bad as I remember it being (like many picture discs, I’m fairly sure this one does suffer a bit in places, but apparently not on Side A).
If I were choosing my vinyl collection right now, Apollo 440‘s second album Electro Glide in Blue probably would be one of my choices, but as it turns out I just have the three singles – the original Rumble EP, the promo for Astral America, and a regular release of Krupa from the second album. So, as the needle makes its way towards the centre of the flag, the next track has to be Krupa, and with a large selection of unmemorable remixes to pick from, I decided to go for the original version.
That was the intention, anyway – it didn’t sound much like the original, so I flipped it over to the other side, thinking I’d picked the wrong side, and found myself listening to the edited Alcatraz within the Joint vs. @440 version that kicks off Side B, remixed by Alcatraz. This version takes the bouncy original, and makes it a bit more dance-orientated, and actually turns out rather well after all, although the fade at the end is a bit unexpected.
But there’s one release left over, in fact from last week’s Vinyl Moment which was dedicated to Jean-Michel Jarre. In 1998, he collaborated with Apollo 440 on a new version of his 1986 single Fourth Rendez-Vous. Now titled Rendez-Vous 98, it became an enormous, contemporary dance version, and actually did a lot better on the charts than the original.
Sadly, Rendez-Vous 98 didn’t see an official 12″ release in the UK, but somehow I seem to have ended up with the single-sided promo version, which just features Apollo 440‘s main remix as featured on the Odyssey Through O2 remix album. It’s a shame that none of the bonus tracks made it onto here, but it’s an exceptional piece of dance music nonetheless, and a great way to conclude this Vinyl Moment.
By the late 1990s, vinyl was close to hitting its nadir, but for dance music it was still the format of choice, and as far as I can see from these four singles, it served Apollo 440 well. In the next Vinyl Moment, we’ll cross into another decade, and take a spin through an assortment of Röyksopp singles.
What’s great about listening to Oxygène on vinyl is that this is entirely how it’s meant to be heard. I’m lucky that this copy was owned by someone other than me, so is in fantastic condition, sounding crisp and clear, but you can still tangibly feel the warmth of the vinyl.
OK, maybe that is nonsense, but it does sound great, listening the soft introduction to Part I, it does feel as though you have a tangible connection to the young Jean-Michel, recording this on analogue equipment in his bedroom back in the mid-1970s. The deep synth that turns up, a few minutes in, reverberates and sounds every bit as dramatic as it was meant to.
I think Part I and Part II might be my favourites of this album – the mega-hit Part IV is great, but it’s the atmosphere of Side 1 that makes Oxygène so special for me. I wasn’t going to listen to Part II this time, but as the rippling arpeggios mix in, it would seem extremely rude to stop the needle from playing.
What’s fascinating about Oxygène for me is that it really hasn’t dated particularly. The drums sound a little bit naff when they finally turn up a minute or two into Part II, but other than that this sounds amazing.
Of course, this being vinyl, it perhaps isn’t surprising that I need to take the needle off and adjust the head weight, as it starts to skip. There is a downside to this obsolete format too – I’ve lost my place in the music now, and worse – it’s spoilt the mood. Perhaps this isn’t such a great copy after all. Time to change the record.
My copy of the Orient Express single includes an edit of Équinoxe (Part IV), from The Concerts in China, which I’ve always preferred to the original version. I picked this up at a tiny record store in Surfer’s Paradise, in Australia, about twenty years ago, and it still sounds fantastic.
Strangely, at a time when many electronic artists were flourishing, the late 1980s and early 1990s weren’t kind to Jarre, and it wasn’t until 1997 that he was able to forge much of a comeback. Now a quarter of a century into his career, revisiting his biggest hit was seemingly the only way of clawing his way back to popularity, and the first single was Oxygène (Part 8).
Unfortunately in the 1990s, the trend was for the most part not to release your own tracks on vinyl, just remixes, so I’m faced with a slight dilemma about which to pick – I go with the first track on Side B, which is mislabelled in every way – this is the twelve minute Sunday Club “edit”, remixed, apparently, by Takkyu Ishino (it’s actually the Sunday Club mix).
Having skipped twenty years in a couple of minutes, it’s interesting to hear how Jarre’s remixers are now shaping their sound around him. The most commercial of the tracks on Oxygène 7-13, it’s pretty much a four minute pop song on the album, but here it’s been reshaped into a huge, atmospheric piece. It really is very good indeed.
A lot of purists probably hate Sash!‘s take on Oxygène (Part 10), but I’m rather fond of it. It doesn’t sound much like the original, it’s true, but across the three or four different versions he put together, he takes the original track off in very varied directions. If you needed a quick introduction to Jean-Michel Jarre in the mid-1990s, this was a great way to get it.
But that brings this week’s Vinyl Moment to a close – some great slices of soft, gentle, atmospheric synth music, and the dance remixes they inspired, all enjoyed in the way they were meant to be. There is one more – the most recent 12″ single I have for Jarre is a promo for his often overlooked 1998 single Rendez-Vous 98, a collaborative reworking of Fourth Rendez-Vous with Apollo 440, but since I’ve got some singles of theirs as well, I’m going to save that one for next time instead.