Inspiral Carpets – Devil Hopping

Celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this week is the Inspiral Carpets‘ fourth album Devil Hopping. I’ll be honest here – I don’t know a huge amount about this group. They were always around when I was growing up, and they were signed to Mute, so I always paid a bit of extra attention. Of course, famously Noel Gallagher was one of their roadies prior to finding his own success, which is a good claim to fame.

It opens with the catchy but loud second single I Want You, which on the single version came with additional vocals from Mark E. Smith of The Fall. On both versions, it’s pure rock, almost punk at times, with the manic drumming. Here on the album, it’s loud and does have that manic drumming, but the vocals aren’t quite punk, which is probably why they replaced them. It’s interesting though – definitely a catchy opener.

When I think of the Inspiral Carpets, I think of rhythmic, almost dance-based rock, though, and Party in the Sky is much closer to that blueprint. It sounds as though most of it was played live, but there’s a brilliant flanged guitar sound that plays on the right hand side from time to time that sounds as though a dance producer had a hand in building some of this. And having checked, one did – Pascal Gabriel, later of pop-dance trio Peach was the producer here.

There are times when they channel 1970s rock rather brilliantly, and Plutoman is one of those. There’s a bit of piano and gentle synth backing, with just the slightest prog rock-style guitar noodling until the chorus. The Hammond organ, the sound that always heavily characterised Inspiral Carpets‘ sound turns up for the first time here in the chorus.

Uniform is the track that this album has been building up to – for the first time, this is wholeheartedly the sound that I expect of this group. The verse is soft with rhythmic guitar, the bridge adds a bit of extra synth, and then the chorus just jumps up a notch and explodes with a whole load of Hammond organ. I’m not sure quite why I expect this as their blueprint – possibly just because I know Saturn 5 so well, as we’ll no doubt discuss in a few moments – but this seems to me to be exactly what I want from Inspiral Carpets.

That isn’t to say there aren’t a few dull moments on here, though – there are plenty. Lovegrove is nice, but not especially interesting. Just Wednesday has some fun rhyming in the lyrics, but otherwise you’ve heard most of this by now.

Then we get Saturn 5, the hugely energetic lead single, with its largely incomprehensible lyrics about the Soviet space program (or whatever they’re actually about). It was a modest hit, peaking at just number 20 in early 1994, but somehow has left an indelible mark on my mind. If I hadn’t already been listening to music for a couple of years before this, it’s very possible that this could have become my favourite track of all time – I probably would have got pulled into the indie explosion that followed a year or so later, and this blog would have had some very different content.

As it was, Saturn 5 was probably my first exposure to real rock music, as there just wasn’t much on the radio in the early-to-mid 1990s. I had been listening to a lot of synth-based pop, and increasingly a bit of dance – even some early trance and drum and bass. So, perhaps counterintuitively, I understood this immediately – it’s beautifully structured, with a catchy but softer introduction that leads you through to the verse, an instrumental bridge, another verse, and then an enormous chorus, where everything just explodes. It’s a lot more organic than most of what I had been listening to, but I would have understood that too, having always had my parents’ classical and opera playing in the background when I was younger.

In case it wasn’t obvious, I love Saturn 5. So much so, that when writing this review I decided I had to listen to it twice. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before – it really is that good. Sorry – bit of an essay there, but I think it deserves it. I think I’ve been waiting about a quarter of a century to write this review.

Obviously, nothing else here is ever going to live up to that for me, but I’ll try to be fair. But honestly All of This and More is more of a punk-rock piece, and doesn’t really cut it for me unfortunately. Way the Light Falls is nice, a softer track with huge Hammond organ but relatively little guitar. Half Way There has some fun lyrics, including the brilliant “Would I lie to you? / Yes, I probably would,” in the chorus.

But honestly, by this point the album, I’ll be honest that as a casual Inspiral Carpets listener, I’m actually starting to tire a bit of them. There’s just enough variety to keep you entertained, but some of the songs are a little bit similar to one another – probably fine if you’re a fan, but not really enough to keep a casual listener paying attention.

Cobra is faster, with more of the manic drumming that we heard on the opening track, and it is a bit different to most of the things we’ve heard up to now. Plus, it’s only a couple of minutes longer, soon passing the baton onto the closing track I Don’t Want to Go Blind. This is a more stripped affair, showing us just how good a vocalist Tom Hingley is. Instruments join the song, one by one, until by the end, there’s a fair bit going on. At this point, it does sound a lot like the tracks we heard earlier, but that’s fine. It’s a good closing track. With some extra drum work.

So that’s Devil Hopping. Unsurprisingly, for me, there’s little to grab my attention other than Saturn 5, but this album does have its moments, particularly with I Want You, Plutoman, and Uniform. It’s worth having the album to help understand the context of Saturn 5, but for me, I have to confess that there’s probably only ever going to be one Inspiral Carpets track.

Bizarrely, Devil Hopping seems to have fallen out of print, but you can still find the digital edition through major retailers and streaming sites.

The Other Two – The Other Two & You

The New Order side-project The Other Two is unusual in having been born of two other side projects – in the early 1990s, Bernard Sumner was off having enormous hits with Electronic, and Peter Hook was, well, doing whatever it was he did in Revenge. So the other two, then called Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris, were left to form The Other Two.

Having grown out of such forced circumstances, it’s not, unfortunately but not entirely unexpectedly, a particularly good album. Having spent a couple of years in gestation, it actually appeared the same year as the rather better RepublicIt opens with Tasty Fish, a nice enough Stephen Hague-produced song, which has a pretty catchy chorus, although you would be hard pushed to define exactly what it’s about. It was a minor hit, landing just outside the top forty in 1991.

The Greatest Thing is a surprising second track, and does stand out somewhat. A couple of tracks in, and you realise that between them, Morris and Gilbert are every bit as good at writing lyrics as Sumner, and Gilbert’s vocal delivery is possibly technically better than that of her bandmate. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to hear very New Order-like songs delivered with a female vocalist.

But none of them are entirely memorable, as second single Selfish demonstrates. Also a minor hit, it had some impact in the US, but has been largely forgotten by most people, and when you listen to it this is understandable. It’s nice – probably largely due to Hague’s production – but ask me in a few hours how the melody line went, and I’ll have totally forgotten.

The fourth track is Movin’ On, and even while listening to it, you’re hard pushed to find anything to say about it. Great production, good lyrics, and an entirely forgettable melody. If this was the first album you had ever owned, it might mean something to you, but I’m afraid I’m lost for words here.

Side A closes with the nice instrumental Ninth Configuration, which might actually be the best track yet. There’s a nice driving bass part, which does remind you of the lack of Peter Hook on this release. That’s not entirely a bad thing, especially if it leaves him with one less thing to be bitter about, but it is notable just how much this sounds like New Order otherwise.

If the rule of albums says that Side B is always less good than Side A, that could mean some interesting diversions here. But actually things start to look up a bit with the opening track Feel This Love. This is much closer to what you might expect The Other Two to be. Next is the slightly acid-inspired but very much late 1980s sounding Spirit Level, largely instrumental with some weird vocal samples. Despite having absolutely no melody, it’s strangely compelling.

Then comes the soft and gentle Night Voice, another short instrumental, but this time a pleasantly atmospheric one, in the style of film music. Finally, a more rhythmic introduction brings us to Innocence, the last track, and one of the more catchy. It’s every bit as unmemorable as anything else on this album, but it’s nice enough while it lasts. Which isn’t especially long – this is a very short release.

So The Other Two & You is good – sometimes even up to the standard of New Order. It’s just very forgettable – so maybe it’s one best left for the fans. If you have one of the CD versions (I don’t) you also get the earlier promotional single Loved It, and optionally a pile of remixes by the brilliant Pascal Gabriel and Moby.

The special edition of The Other Two & You is still available here.

Introducing Jonteknik

A few weeks back, as you may recall, I put out a call for unsigned acts to get in touch. By way of a quick introduction, I don’t think it would be fair of me to put too much of my opinion in these pieces, as I’m not the kind of person who’s very good at making his mind up quickly, so they will be compiled primarily from information given to me by the artists.

Anyway, since he was the first to contact me, I decided it was only fair to start with Jonteknik, who has a new album out called Giants Under the Microscope.

Giants Under the Microscope

In a way it’s a bit of a mystery that Jonteknik is unsigned, actually, as he is no stranger to the music business. He started making music around 1988, and quickly picked up accolades from Music Technology magazine, The Mix, Melody Maker and Future Music. After a couple of singles in 1993, his major breakthrough came in 1996 when he met producer Pascal Gabriel, who introduced him to Claudia Brücken, with whom he would ultimately collaborate on the Onetwo project (which I’ll review here in full one of these days as it’s one of my favourite albums ever).

His first full solo album was Sounds from the Electronic Garden, released in 2009, from which we’ll listen to the Kraftwerk-inspired King of the Mountains in just a moment. Giants Under the Microscope is his new instrumental follow-up.

I asked Jon to gather together a quick “demo” of three tracks for us to share, so the first track we’ll listen to today is Manoeuvres:

It’s hard not to like this gentle beats-driven instrumental taken from the new album, but more compelling still is the beautiful northern imagery in the video, with its deserted roads and wind turbines.

Second up is King of the Mountains:

You’d be a fool if you didn’t spot the influence of Tour de France here, and as a tribute to the Düsseldorf pioneers and their musical importance, it’s excellent. I will add that as a cyclist myself I’m not sure this quite captures the spirit of the road in the way that Kraftwerk did, but that could just be the lack of “oooh” and “aaah” sounds.

Third for this set is his collaboration with Martin Philip Pride in Your Pocket:

Apparently Vince Clarke likes it, which is good enough for me. This one is pop, with slightly dark undertones in the background. A great and very varied trio, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Just for a fun bit of background, I compiled a few really obscure questions for all the acts featured in this series. Here are some highlights from the world of Jonteknik:

What’s your favourite synth, and why? 

Arturia Oberheim SEM-V soft synth, it has a brilliant fat sound and I find the arpegiator so infectious.

If I forced you to do an exclusive cover version, what would it be?

Electricity by OMD.

Nobody really listens to music any more. Discuss.

Life has become a full time job in itself. People seem to have left time to relax and chill so music becomes a soundtrack to doing ‘stuff’. I also think the advent of portable devices such as mobile phones and ipods have given music the job of helping to pass the time while on the move. You will also notice at gigs that more and more people are just talking to their mates, it is so infuriating! I just want to say “Shut up and listen to the music!”

It’s not all bad. Music is instantly accessible these days so there is more chance of us audiophiles being able to find new acts that we wouldn’t have discovered before, I’ve found online music magazines and blogs are great for the discovery of new music. Open your eyes and your ears will follow, rewarding your mind with new sonic adventures.

The latter, in particular, I thought was a rather wonderful response. Jon was actually kind enough to send me his full album too, and while it would be unfair to review it in full in this piece, I can tell you that I really enjoyed it. Highlights for me were Robot Music and Muckle Flugga.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard today, Jonteknik‘s Bandcamp page is here: http://jonteknik.bandcamp.com/