"...at last someone's had the courage and wit to realise that making reflective dewy synth pop for the masses is not a crime but an art. An art, you hear me?"
What a record this is. It's, well, exciting, and mysterious, in the way Power Corruption and Lies was exciting; replete with ready pop melodies and hooks, somewhat glacial in feel but driven by a passionate desire to communicate. If I could just revert to using normal English, it's a frank, plain-speaking pop record, on another level it's a fucking great synth pop record, the sort that stopped being made around 1988; there are unmistakable shades of Scritti Politti or New Order, or Prefab Sprout, or even the Associates. I don't really have a clue what is trendy or not these days, and too much reference spotting can turn you (and the bands you probably listen to) into fucking emasculated librarians. Sometimes it is just better to sit back and enjoy something without any worry about trends.
The opener Double Shadow is a fantastic dance track with a numbing and crushing beat offset by abstract cold synths and whispered vocals. The bit half way through the song, where the music's pressure and tempo increases ever so slightly is such a clever manipulation of both the track's and your emotional state. In some ways it's like an early House record. I'm unsure why it reminds me of that, but it does. Just a thought... The Equaliser is a little more reflective, the special synth runs allowing the listener to pick up on the slightly chilling message conveyed in the lyrics. Yet again there's an insistent beat underpinning the whole thing. Following this, First Time really does drag your memory back to Scritti Politti; breathy, reflective vocals and minimalist synth accompaniment (that nonetheless is very sensitive to the nature of the vocal message and the timbre of their delivery) all offset by a very pretty refrain. At times its chilly synth noise is very close to Fourth Drawer Down Associates too. But hell, I'm reference spotting again...
Count Souvenirs is a melancholy reflection; "wiping off dusty records" and "favourite shirts" are mentioned in the lyrics -a sure sign of soul seeking introspection that. It's an incredibly lonely song in its message of empty shopping malls and impressively manufactured with the aid of Eno-esque synth runs that dissolve into the ether... After this we get In the Morning which is an aggressive pop song firmly held together by a crunching Teutonic beat. The disparity between the beautiful, delicate high register synth harmonies and the underlying rhythms is just brilliant. So This is Goodbye is a forlorn story of breaking up set over a metronomic beat and icy, heavily treated synths; both of which cleverly conspire to give a slightly impersonal, blase tone to proceedings. I say cleverly because emotionally draining events can sometimes seem very numbing and removed and I'm sure that is what is intended by Junior Boys here.
The following two tracks, Like a Child and Caught in a Wave serve up moments of reflection, Blue Nile style. The accompaniments, although busy at times, seem to slow the songs down to a state of near stasis. Covering When No-One Cares (made famous by Frank Sinatra) is a clever move, in some ways it places this LP in the territory where Frank liked to operate, Popular Music for Sophisticates, intelligent pop, that kind of thing. Finally we have FM, a track that doesn't half remind me of the Blue Nile or Prefab Sprout. Before I get brickbats thrown at me, I mean this in an entirely positive way; at last someone's had the courage and wit to realise that making reflective dewy synth pop for the masses is not a crime but an art. An art, you hear me?
I leave it there. Top record. Well worth perusal.Words: Richard Foster.