Thursday, April 22, 2004

CABARET VOLTAIRE – The Original Sound of Sheffield ‘78/’82: Best Of CD (Mute)

Johnny-come-lately time here…

I never bothered investigating the world of Cabaret Voltaire until I bought this last year, and what wasted years they’ve been! I guess my reluctance came from my pegging of CV as, at best, a second-tier Industrial group who rode the coat-tails of Throbbing Gristle, or at worst a glorified electro-disco combo who probably did some early recordings of minor interest before deciding to the spend the bulk of the ‘80s (and beyond) as a bunch of fop-haired disco lightweights beloved by fans of the Smiths and Shriekback. Wrong on both counts.

This CD proves “the Cabs” (as they’re lovingly called by gruel-sipping UK rock journos) to be one of the finest “experimental” units of their time, and a groundbreaking act on a par with similar heavy-hitters Chrome and Suicide. Far more song-oriented than their depravity-dwelling compadres in TG, and more Earth-bound in their outlook than Chrome, CV still manage to hit a basement-dwelling electronic/garage/punk/kraut/noise vibe that appeals and then some.

This is admittedly pretty grim stuff – you can just about smell a depressing late-‘70s kitchen fry-up in a 30-second sound bite – but depressing times always call for depressing music, so let me take a stab in the dark: being an art/punk/noise/electronic/Dada freak in Sheffield, in the mid ‘70s, probably wasn’t a barrel of laughs. Lucky for everyone else, there’s still a great deal of “joy” one can garner from CV’s music.

Track four, “Nag Nag Nag”, is an insanely great mix of Stooge-ian guitar squalls with a Kraftwerk back beat; “Silent Command” [somehow] effectively mixes up reggae-style guitar strums with distorted “scary” vocals (and whilst such a description may send shivers [of dread] up your spine, here it works); their version of the Seeds’ “No Escape” is as weird and otherworldly as the original, yet within a totally different context; though my favourite track here is “Split Second Feeling”, a droning instrumental number drenched in Velvets-y guitar lines. Fact is, it’s all good! 14 tracks, not a dud in the bunch. Even the later, slightly “funky” songs have a claustrophobic, Pop Group-ish feel that increases the aura of intensity CV set forth. Unfortunately, their musical sophistication and song-writing skills – these lads could write a damn good, creepy song – proved to be their undoing, as from what I’ve heard of their latter material, their levels of “slickness” gradually fell out of my listening comfort zone.

With a chunky, graphics-filled booklet and semi-informative liner notes, The Original Sound of Sheffield comes very highly recommended. If you’ve ever had your mind melted by Chrome, Residents, Suicide, Throbbing Gristle or Faust and are looking for something just as good, don’t sit around like a putz for a decade waiting for written instructions like me, do the done thing and get on it.

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