After a bit of warm-up, The Future Sound of London really started operating under that name in 1992 with the groundbreaking and enormous hit single Papua New Guinea, and just under a decade later, they put that particular career on hold with the mini-album Papua New Guinea Translations, released fifteen years ago this week.
It opens, of course, with the track that began it all, the exquisite original 12″ version of the title track. Until you listen to it again, it’s easy to forget quite how good it actually is. Those simple, reverb-laden piano notes and choral washes will send shivers down your spine – it really is that amazing.
That was the first translation (back into the native FSOLish, it would seem). The second owes a lot to the original, built around a similar chord sequence and directly sampling it at various speeds. Papsico is a great way to begin in earnest – a ten minute exploration which takes the original in a very different direction while at the same time not straying too far from the theme. There are definite echoes of FSOL’s later, broader and more exploratory material, with a slidey middle section and hints of far-off alien worlds, but it’s almost certainly best not to read too much into that at this stage.
Other translations are more of a departure from the original – The Lovers, later revisited on the next Amorphous Androgynous album The Isness, borrows primarily from the original with just a laid back bass part, and a spacious progressive backdrop has been built around it. In its original form, it’s another nine minute exploration, which gives it plenty of space to evolve and saunter through the concept.
After this, the translations start to drift from one to the next, both literally and metaphorically. Wooden Ships hints at the eastern directions of their next project a couple of years later; The Great Marmalade Mama in the Sky is less psychedelic, and more of a beatsy, cosmic variation.
The journey we take on this album carries us around the world – perhaps even across the universe. Requiem is a gentler piece, with piano, harmonica, and waily vocals. Then Things Change Like the Patterns and Shades That Fall from the Sun is a more dramatic translation, built around startling pad chords based on the original Papua New Guinea sequence.
The eighth and final translation is The Big Blue, bringing together many of the themes from the preceding tracks into one. It’s a pleasant eastern-themed piece, drifting along with various instruments taking the lead. On the face of it, there isn’t a lot of Papua New Guinea left here, but then elements from the original do turn up from time to time, and the sum product is entirely pleasant.
Like the album as a whole – blurring the line between what “single” and an “album” might mean, this is an extremely enjoyable exploration of different elements from the start – and end – of The Future Sound of London‘s chart career.
You can find second-hand or downloadable copies of Papua New Guinea Translations from places like this.