Review Summary: Blasphemy
Recently I’ve been obsessed with dEUS’ 1996 album “In a Bar Under the Sea”. The mixture of all kinds of styles, from Charles Mingus over Fugazi to Frank Zappa seen through the eyes of a mid-90s’ Alternative Rock band from Belgium resulted in one of the most addictive albums of its time. So while thinking about where to go next within their discography all of a sudden I noticed there was a new album released by the band, the second one after their reunion in 2004 following a four year hiatus. The reviews I overread quickly (too quickly, alas) all were favorable, so every older work had to wait and I soon held “Vantage Point” in my hands. It didn’t take more than the quarter of an hour until all my expectations came crashing down upon me in the form of a gigantic disappointment. Everything I loved “In a Bar Under the Sea” for was gone, no experimentation, no variation, no breaks, no rough edges, nothing at all. Only usual straight-forward alternative rock, danceable and meaningless. But you mustn’t perish a band because of a change in their sound. So let’s forget about their past and just concentrate on this work as if it was their very first. And now the real problem of “Vantage Point” becomes obvious: It just doesn’t achieve what it tries to: the melodies aren’t catchy, the rhythms not infectious and the songs are not the hymns they want to be. Much of “Vantage Point” targets at indie-clubs and -dancefloors, and some songs like the single The Architect
might achieve their goal, but as a listening experience other than hopping around to, there isn’t much to enjoy.
Another important difference to their earlier days is that “Vantage Point” marks the first time dEUS have kept the same line-up for two albums in a row. Probably not the best sign for a band whose output used to be marked by constant change and evolution. However, when compared to their earlier work the changes in sound are undeniable: First of all, the violin is absent from almost all the songs, instead violinist Klaas Janzoons pastes up every empty space with a (fake?) orchestra sound, just like dEUS are afraid of what would be left if the songs were reduced to their basics. The guitar riffs sometimes actually are rather good, but the lack of variation doesn’t help them. And while I try not to mention dEUS glorious past too often, I simply have to just once more: the rhythm work of “In a Bar Under the Sea” was just incredible, addictive, lively and highly complex. “Vantage Point” has nothing but straight danceable beats, monotonous and purely uninteresting.
But the biggest problem is that the album is so ridiculously overproduced that it is hard to be taken honestly. A defining point of the album might be Eternal Woman
, which starts of surprisingly low-key with only an acoustic guitar and Tom Barman’s voice and gives you hope that probably the nature of the album will change to the better, but then it gets overlayered little by little, until it is turned into one billowing pudding of a song.
To add some extra appeal two big names of Europe’s indie-scene have been brought in as guest musicians: Swedish vocalist Karin Dreijer Andersson from the Electronica group The Knife and Guy Garvey, lead singer of the Brit Pop-band Elbow. Both of their two songs are actually the best on the album, but they aren’t able to save the day either. Slow
featuring Karin - which is also part of the first single “The Architect / Slow”
is, well… slow; a “meditation on slowness” it was called somewhere and I can agree with that: “Slow / Like the kissing of a lazy cheek / Like the limit and the deadline of the rush”
. Guy Garvey’s appearance marks the high point of the album, the ballad The Vanishing of Maria Schneider
, an ode to the forgotten lead actress of “Last Tango in Paris”; “And no one knows what you've become / You elegantly put us on / Forever and a day”
. It stands out as the best song on this album next to the surprisingly catchy Smokers Reflect
, the two only songs I can whole-heartedly enjoy. But on some level this guest performance does simultaneously work against the album, inevitably bringing up comparisons to Elbow’s 2008 album “The Seldom Seen Kid”, which does everything right dEUS do wrong. And it is incredible how such a distinctive voice as Guy Garvey’s gets completely buried underneath the production until it’s hard to actually recognise him.
The lyrics of “Vantage Point” never really stick out, but they aren’t bad either. And after all it is a band from Belgium so hey!, you can forgive them. However, lines like “I’ve reason to believe that what I find / Is gonna change the face of human kind”
are bound to bring a little giggle, especially when combined with the godly nature of their band name. Others aren't quite as amusing, like “And I was thinking, well hey / I'm gonna throw it away / Throwing out my popular culture / Cause now you know it's not great”
, from the closer Popular Culture
- intended to be an observation of where culture is at right now, that in my opinion completely fails to sum up what it's all about.
Most critical response to this album was favourable, talking about the band “maturing” and how they don’t need any avant-gardism any more. But if this is maturing, I don’t ever want to grow up at all. After all it seems to be because they’re now adults, that the time when dEUS had deserved their band name is gone. Nowadays they should watch out for the Vatican excommunicating them for blasphemy.