I hadn’t even realised that this had a video, let alone one this great. From the brilliant Alright on Top, here’s Stars and Heroes:
Time now, at the start of the year, to explore some of the reviews you might have missed in the last year or two. Here’s a selection…
In a way, it’s a strange thing to be a fan of a record company, rather than the acts who are on it. But Mute has always been such an eclectic and open-minded organisation, and has had so many excellent artists on its roster, that it’s difficult not to be a fan.
So it was that I came across Luke Slater, and his most successful album to date Alright on Top. It first appeared fifteen years ago this week, and I think I fell across it a year or two later.
Alright on Top opens with lead single Nothing At All, which for some might be world changing, but I suspect that many, like me, will find it a bit droney and dull. It’s a decent noisy electro track, but I don’t know as I would have bought the album just because of having heard this.
Interestingly though, the singles are not as good as this album gets – You Know What I Mean is a sweet mixture of noisy electronics and a catchy pop melody. It might not exactly be contemporary any more, but it was at least great for its time.
It’s the huge analogue sound of Stars and Heroes that really grabs you. The enormous chugging synth arpeggio that runs throughout the entirety of this track is unmissable, but this is also a real song, not just some anonymous electronic noise. If it could have found an era to belong to, this really should have been an enormous hit.
But it wasn’t, and neither was the brilliant I Can Complete You, which was released as another of the singles. It’s a love song, delivered by a robot alongside another enormous analogue synth line and some slightly trippy and rock-inspired drumming. It really is brilliant.
This is a multi-faceted album – it has degrees of darkness, but also some cheery performances too, and unlike some of Luke Slater‘s earlier works, the focus is definitely on the songs. Only You is a sweet love song – if you sat down and read the lyrics it would be difficult to conclude anything else. But combined with enormous beats and deep and dark electronics, it becomes something much more complex.
By this stage you should be pretty much ready for the enormity of Take Us Apart, which ripples from ear to ear with complex synth lines while a huge bass line bounces along joyfully in the background. Again though, this is definitely a song, with a vocal that just about manages to keep up with the slightly manic synth work.
So it continues with Searchin’ for a Dream, and then Take Me Round Again, both dark and melodic, and in the case of the latter, full of acid squawks and tribal drums. There are hints of every form of electronic music here, even right back to the fifties and sixties at times.
Finally, the twisted but adorable Twisted Kind of Girl leads us to closing track Doctor of Divinity, which gives us pounding beats, punctuated by crisp and dull electronic sounds. It may not be the most exciting piece of music ever by itself, but closing this album it sounds exceptional.
This album represents pretty much all I know about Luke Slater, but I’m glad to have found it. Play this alongside pretty much anything else from Mute Records’ back catalogue and you’re guaranteed a fascinating listening experience.
You can still find Alright on Top at all major retailers.
This was the last ever Music for the Masses, just a little over a decade ago, and it would go out with nothing but a sombre wave on the webcam, ten minutes before the end. Over the preceding five years, I had immensely enjoyed doing the show, and would spend another eight years or so wondering how to recapture those times. Eventually, it was reincarnated in the shape of the blog you’re reading today.
The last track had to be, of course, the fantastic Sweet Harmony by The Beloved.
Show 40: Sat 14 May 2005, from 6:00pm-8:00pm
Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Everything But The Girl.
- Portishead – Glory Box
- Basement Jaxx – Where’s Your Head At
- Kings Have Long Arms feat. Phil Oakey – Rock & Roll is Dead
- Sohodolls – Prince Harry
- Everything But The Girl – Missing (CL McSpadden Powerhouse Mix)
- Underworld – Pearl’s Girl
- Client – Don’t Call Me Baby
- Saint Etienne – Only Love Can Break Your Heart
- Garbage – The World is Not Enough
- Everything But The Girl – Walking Wounded
- Wolfsheim – Kein Zurück (Live) [The Live Bit]
- Vic Twenty – Wrong
- Moby – Raining Again
- Luke Slater – I Can Complete You
- Röyksopp – Poor Leno
- Everything But The Girl – Blame
- Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 2)
- Goldfrapp – Tiptoe [Electromix]
- Jolly Music – Radio Jolly (ADULT Remix) [Electromix]
- Massive Attack – Butterfly Caught (Paul Daley Remix) [Electromix]
- Alpinestars – Green Raven Blonde
- The Beloved – Sweet Harmony (Live the Dream Remix)
The Electromix feature from this show still exists, and will be included on a future Playlist for stowaways.
Fifteen years ago this week saw the release of a special one-off Depeche Mode single to launch their beautifully packaged The Singles 86-98 compilation. Having only returned from the dead (literally, in one case) a year earlier, they returned to the studio uncharacteristically quickly and recorded one of the finest singles of their career.
This may be obvious from that introduction, but the lead track is probably my favourite Depeche Mode song to date. In true Mode fashion, it’s overflowing with dark energy, with a beautiful lyric and has some intriguing experimental elements too. It has to be one of Dave Gahan‘s finest vocal performances too. Having come back only a year earlier with gusto on their latest album Ultra, they were really going with all cylinders firing.
There are two b-sides on this single: one vocal and one instrumental. Surrender is the first, and as with the lead track would have fitted perfectly on the previous album. It’s one of Martin L. Gore‘s more soulful bluesy tracks, again delivered perfectly by Gahan. This is followed by the instrumental Headstar. Depeche Mode instrumentals tend to be curious little instrumental tracks driven by a particular sound or sample, and you do have to wonder exactly what Gore’s writing process might involve in these cases. This is no exception, but the flowing synth pads lead through to a darker, more industrial backing, and even a counter-melody. It’s tempting to wonder if this one might have even been intended as a vocal track at one stage.
Anton Corbijn is also on form on this release, with a totally brilliant cover picture showing the ‘DM’ LEDs in an anonymous hotel room, beautifully lit with an orange glow. Truly masterful.
As always in the 1990s, there’s a second CD for the remixes, but this was after the chart rules changed in May 1998, so you only get three. The first is by Subsonic Legacy, a curious choice to lead the disc as it’s a deep and dark dub mix, driven by a grimy bass. You get hints of the rest of the song, and it’s brilliant, but as with a lot of dub mixes you’ll find it a little unsatisfying if you can’t just enjoy it for what it is.
The second remix is by Dan the Automator, and is more faithful to the original, but this also means you’d be much less likely to hear it in a mainstream club, which would normally be the point of a remix. This version changes most of the track, approaching it from a very different angle, but most notable are the new drums and bass, and added vinyl scratching (“no doubt”). But it’s by remaining faithful to the original that it becomes all the more compelling in many ways. You can find this version on their recent collection Remixes 2: 81-11.
Finally on this disc you get a remix of the instrumental Headstar by electronic legend in training Luke Slater. This isn’t one of his finest efforts unfortunately, driven by banging saucepans and a characteristically massive bass part. Whereas the b-side remixes on Ultra really tended to add something to the originals (more on that later) this one does struggle a little.
Released a few weeks later as a special ultra-limited edition, there is also a third CD for this single (or, more practically, you can now find the whole lot in one go on their singles box set DMBX6). This final CD delivers some excellent surprises, kicking off with the first of two versions of the title track by Gus Gus.
Running at a slightly faster tempo than the original, their aptly named eleven minute Long Play mix is brilliant, both faithful to the track and also more dynamic and more suited to the dance floor. I’m not sure I think the higher tempo does a huge amount for the track, but it does fit the remix perfectly. It’s a mix of two halves, as once the main track finishes you then get six minutes or so of deep gargling dub mix, but it’s pretty excellent nonetheless.
Next is a remix so special that it appeared on their original remix collection The Remixes 81-04, the brilliant Kill the Pain version of Painkiller, mixed by drum and bass legend DJ Shadow. Augmented by extra electronic warblings and a whole lot of trippy drum samples, and bristling with energetic samples, what was already an excellent little instrumental is transformed into something really quite excellent.
We then get a remix of Surrender by Catalan FC, which is overflowing with reverb and effects, and completely new electronic backing. It’s not perfect, but it does transform the bluesy original into something much more electro, and is pretty excellent for all of that. This is followed by Gus Gus‘s Short Play mix, which is effectively just the top half of the earlier mix.
Finally, the last track is a bit of a surprise – completely out of nowhere we get a new mix of 1990’s World in My Eyes by Safar. It’s nothing special unfortunately, but it is refreshing to hear such an old favourite again. It opens with one of Gahan’s traditional live statements – “Good evening San Francisco!” and quickly becomes a pleasant but pedestrian 90s house track. It builds into something rather more pleasant over its eight minutes, but it’s not essential listening.
Only When I Lose Myself is a fantastic single, which is accompanied by a great package of bonus tracks and remixes, and proves to me that when Depeche Mode put their mind to writing a new hit single, they really do make an exceptional job of it.
Disc one of Only When I Lose Myself is available on the repackaged version of Ultra if you can still find it anywhere, but the definitive version of the single is in the DMBX6 set here or as a CD on its own here.