Thursday, April 18, 2002

I'm still talking about the Luke Slater album, Alright On Top. It's definitely a grower, not a shower. After four listens, I really like it, but I can also more clearly identify its problems.

Luke has got the eighties electropop sounds down to a tee. Listen: there's the opening telex sound from Visage's The Damned Don't Cry. Isn't that the chase scene from Giorgio Moroder's soundtrack to Midnight Express? Those fantastic orchestral keyboards are a dead ringer for Alphaville. There are video game bleeps and buzzes scattered all over the place. All this is brilliantly updated and set to random scattered drum patterns.

But where are the songs? Say what you like about the early eighties, but by god they knew how to write a good hook. The era rediscovered and fell head over heels in love with "pop!". These bands may have looked outrageous, but they were churning out good old fashioned proper songs like a bacofoiled tin pan alley. You had Marc Almond documenting the seedy, desperate lonely city; Simon Le Bon spouting enigmatic non-sequiturs, Gary Numan and John Foxx coming across all JG Ballard, Tears For Fears with their Janov theories, all set to tunes your milkman could whistle.

And they had "Voices!". Marc wailing off-key, in his mind a sequined torch singer, David Sylvian out-louche-ing Bryan Ferry, Neil Tennant coming across all arch, a modern-day Noel Coward, and loads of them crooning several keys lower than their normal register, trying to sound meaningful and sophisticated. It was as though they felt they had to make up for the cold, glacial synths by stamping "Personality!" all over it. They may have sounded bored, but they were never being boring.

Ricky Barrow, Slater's hired hand on Alright On Top is just boring. No pop, no style, he sounds best when reduced to a unrecognisable robotic vocoder, as on the fabulous sparkling I Can Complete You. More of that please, Mr Slater, and less of the ponderous You Know What I Mean. And definitely more of the album's closing track, Doctor Of Divinity, an urgent, driving Moroderesque slab of industria. Tellingly, it's an instrumental.

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