If ever there was an album which was highly anticipated by me, it was this one. Back in 2008, Billie Ray Martin and Robert Solheim came together to record the Anatomy of a Plastic Girl EP, which includes four tracks of total synth perfection. The promise was always that they would revisit this and turn it into a full album. Somehow, this journey took three full years, and I think they did get a little lost en route. Or maybe not…
Martin has always been a slightly eccentric star, but one who has always been able to rely on a quite astonishing voice. The “dark electronic soul” of Electribe 101‘s Talking with Myself back in 1988 was synth-driven dance music with a strong soulful vocal, and her solo work in the 1990s was always characterised by a similar vein – Your Loving Arms (produced by BT apparently) was, if I remember correctly, promoted by quotes about how her voice somehow contained natural healing properties, and actually the gullible part of my mind does start to believe that when listening to her work.
The album opens in perfect style with the best of the new tracks Rainy Days and Saturdays, with throbbing synths and Billie Ray Martin‘s haunting vocal. Exceptional but older EP tracks I’m Not Simone Choule and Candy Coated Crime follow, taking us through to the true masterpiece of the album Anatomy of a Plastic Girl.
If there has ever been a better example of electronic pop perfection, then frankly I can’t think of it. To the sound of rhythmic throbbing synths Anatomy of a Plastic Girl tells a really quite evocative story of someone who has undergone rather too much cosmetic surgery. “For where the glitter lay, there is a battlefield,” Martin sings, somehow capturing a quite beautiful melancholy which you never really see as you watch the stars parade their silhouettes “down Rodeo Drive.” This track sits as close as it comfortably can to the centre of the album where it belongs, and if every track prior to it has been leading up to this point then it’s also fair to say that nothing will ever live up to it again.
The rest of the album is mainly newer, and brings us the slightly misguided Reality TV and Jalousies and Jealousies, and also another piece of EP perfection Oprah’s Book of the Month Club, Pt. 2. Sadly nothing seems to ever quite live up to the power of the 2008 material. You have to wonder slightly whether the EP was a bad idea in the first place – it contained four totally perfect tracks, and really nothing was ever going to live up to that. The album closes with a longer alternative version of Candy Coated Crime, which rather beautifully channels I Feel Love.
So half of Hollywood Under the Knife is an exceptionally good album. The rest is also good, but is somewhat overshadowed for me by what came before it. If you’ve not heard any of it, then I suspect you might enjoy the whole thing as a complete product a lot more than I’m able to. Or maybe the lengthy recording process genuinely has resulted in a slightly flawed and schizophrenic release. Either way, I’ll look forward to whatever The Opiates decide to do next, but let’s hope it’s slightly better coordinated next time!
Incidentally, from the remixes I’ve heard I’m not sure you need the double CD version which adds Hollywood Cuts (The Remixes), but maybe that’s what you’re looking for.
Hollywood Under the Knife can be found in all the usual places, such as iTunes, Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.