Posts Tagged ‘Production’

Cleopatra Records – 29th December 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Duran Duran without Simon le Bon? Yes, indeed. Their earliest iteration featured Stephen ‘Tintin’ Duffy. Andy Wickett, formerly of TV Eye subsequently stepped in on vocals, before Simon joined the band. And yes, however synonymous with slick veneer 80s style and pop music, Duran Duran very much always were a band. Real musicians playing real instruments. Le Bon’s vocal talents may have played second to his image, but his voice played an integral part in their overall sound.

This four-track demo, recorded in 1979, includes an early version of ‘Girls on Film’ and, ‘See Me Repeat Me’ would later be reworked to become arguably the band’s defining song, ‘Rio’.

These cuts showcase a more new wave orientated sound, accentuated by Wickett’s more ragged and less overtly melodic vocal style. While the busy funk-laced bass that would feature in their later work is clearly in evidence, especially on ‘See Me Repeat Me,’ the vibe is more reminiscent of Gang of Four. The middle-eight is a chaotic, jazz-noise workout, and there’s a sharp, dark edge to it. The production (the songs were recorded at UB40s home studio) is altogether more direct and more raw than that which came to define the band’s sound on signing to EMI, and it’s in keeping with the more attacking style of playing.

‘Reincarnation’ is positively gothy, with Wickett taking his cues from Bowie and sounding more like Peter Murphy as he snakes his way around some chilly synths and urgent tribal percussion.

There’s a real urgency to ‘Girls on Film,’ the chorus of which is immediately recognisable when it emerges from the furious flurry of nagging clean guitars and driving funk-infused bass. But the verses aren’t only different musically and lyrically, but convey a very different perspective, with Wickett, who co-wrote the song, explaining that “the lyrics were actually inspired by the lives of the stars of old black and white movies…. It is important for people to understand the true origins of the song ‘Girls on Film’ and to hear the edgy sound that Duran Duran had in the beginning,” he says. “This song was inspired by the dark side of the glitz and glamour, where these perfect idols suffered tragedy and addiction. The film Sunset Boulevard was also a big influence with its tale of a fading movie star.” Shiny pop, it is not.

The last track, ‘Working the Steel’, is again percussion-heavy, with hints of Adam and the Ants, and the vocal hook is a howl. Duran Duran would never sound this angry or intense again, and of course, had they continued in this vein, they’d have likely achieved minor cult status with a couple of EPs and that would have been that.

As 80s icons, however polished and on-trend, however deeply they seemed to revel in surface, Duran Duran have, throughout their career, had darker currents and certain depths beneath the gloss. This – maybe – or, one would like to think – has played a significant part in their enduring popularity. That, and their capacity for great pop songs, of course. This release is very much a sketching out of ideas, rough, incomplete, unevolved. But it captures an energy, and, with the elements which would subsequently become prominent in their sound in place, does sound like the beginning of something: rather than simply a piece of juvenilia, it’s a relevant and insight-giving piece of history.

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23rd December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

This is Nine Inch Nails? That whipcracking Roland snare, thin and snappy, in a landlside of scuzzed-out bass noise, sounds more like Metal Urbain or offshoot Dr Mix and the Remix. Were it not for the distinctive vocals, the throbbing punk guitars of ‘Branches_Bones’ isn’t immediately regonisable as the work of NIN. But then again, it does distil into its explosive one minute and forty-seven seconds all the violent fury of the best tracks recoded under the NIN moniker. Nevertheless, you weren’t expecting that, were you?

Or maybe you were. Trent Reznor had not only promised new material before the year was out but also warned, on announcement of the release of Not the Actual Events, that ‘it’s an unfriendly, fairly impenetrable record that we needed to make’. And it is.

‘Dear World’ is dark, murky, tetchy, twitchy, deeply electronic. Bleepy synths ride the crest of an insistent drum loop, while Reznor croons in a hushed tone. It’s probably the closest they’ve come to looking back to the Pretty Hate Machine days, and I can’t help but think of the stark, claustrophobic groove of ‘Ringfinger’.

The six-minute ‘She’s Gone Away’ is a messy, mid-tempo dirge that, with its dense, dubby bass groove calls to mind ‘Reptile’ from The Downward Spiral (which along with its immediate predecessors in the shape of Broken and Fixed still stand as the band’s artistic apogee, and there’s nothing which quite scales those heights to be found here). ‘The Idea of You’ is a tense affair, and the thunking, leaden guitar slabs border on Nu Metal. Reznor builds layer upon layer of vocal until there’s something approximating an entire arena’s worth of voice – or a choir’s worth, at least, and it’s actually quite uncomfortable. If the cacophony of overdriven guitars, anguished vocals, layered synths and extraneous noise, which build to a cranium-compressing density sounds like classic Nine Inch Nails, that’s because it is.

Unveiled on the same day as the EP to advance purchasers, ‘Burning Bright’ is brutal assault buried in a dense sonic sludge. And yes, it is unfriendly, a grinding bass-led barrage that draws together the pulverizing grate of Melvins with a black metal and the ground between dark ambient and black metal. Don’t come looking for a chorus or nifty hook here: this track is predominantly about battering the listener. Yet for all its weight, there’s a contrarian element to the arrangement, with bombastic synths and an extravagant guitar solo that goes on – and on.

The overall effect of this bears parallels with Foetus’ Butterfly Potion EP; emerging as a standalone studio release, it was a relentless sonic assault, and a productional tour de force. In the same way, Not the Actual Events is evidently a studio-borne project, which utilises the kit available to achieve a bewildering sonic experience.

From reading Linda Hutcheon on postmodernism, and from digesting William Burroughs’ theories of the cut-up, I’m aware that history is essentially a construct, a representation and reinterpretation of events. As such, while it may be entirely coincidental, it’s notable that Not the Actual Events emerges synchronously to a bundle of souped-up, ultra-deluxe expanded and ‘definitive’ reissues of back-catalogue classics, which are a boon for collectors or a cynical and sacrilegious cash-milking exercise, depending on your perspective. It’s interesting, then, that while Reznor rewrites his own history, his latest material also contributes to its development, drawing on elements of the past while very much looking to the future.

Not the Actual Events is a stronger work thanks in no small part to its brevity: having kept it concise and focused, it has impact to match its density.

And if anyone’s ordered the digital version rather than the vinyl, I’d love to know what the ‘physical component’ is when it’s delivered. If it’s simply a CD, I’ll not be impressed.

 

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