Review Summary: Hollow, lifeless and empty to the core, Cabaret Voltaire do their best to prove the Thatcher years were pretty crappy indeed.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
In Britain in the late 70's, the tide had turned on the labour party. The country was fed up with it's liberal view on immigration and tax. The public wanted them out, and a ballsy strategist by the name of Margaret Thatcher rode a huge wave to power in 1979, taking power off James Callaghan, and the labour party in one fell swoop, setting up a chain of events that eventually led to some of the worst economic situations for the North of England ever, up until Tony Blair became prime minister in 1994.
Though possibly forgotten by a lot of fans of industrial music, Cabaret Voltaire are without a doubt one of the genre's leading figures, a band whose recorded output has just spanned 4 decades, and a band whose experimental and electronic approach to industrial music earned them accolades and detractors in equal measure.
Hailing from Sheffield, the home of the northern steel industry, the band existed in one form or another for 6 years before releasing it's debut album, Mix-Up. The album didn't garner much attention in the post-punk saturated Britain, and the band slunk away into studio obscurity to record the follow up, The Voice of America. It was in this period that Cabaret Voltaire reached their creative peak, melding the disembodied noises from their synthesisers with tin sounding drumbeats that sounded reminiscent of the industry from which they were born.
Red Mecca is as perfect an album as any to describe the desolate Margaret Thatcher years, it's destitute soundscapes evoke an economy spiraling out of control, blatant class discrimination, and mass closure of the industries of the North. It was truly a time when residents of anywhere north of Wales could claim it was 'grim up north'. Out of this chaos, embittered hatred and loathing came a movement of musicians who, like the punks before them, couldn't play instruments, but were sufficiently pissed off to try, this time, on cheap imported synthesisers.
The sound of this Cabaret Voltaire effort is as timless as it is surprisingly ageless, while other synth acts came and went, C.V. still sound as angry, self loathing and utterly contemptuous as ever, never mind the fact that the music hasn't dated a day. The album is based around the 10 minute epic, A Thousand Ways, in which the hate factor is turned up to 10. Every second oozes a helpless cry for mercy, a hollow and empty plea which ultimately goes unheard, but leaves the listener completely at the mercy of the band from this point forward.
That's not to write off the other tracks, as there is a huge array of amazingly experimental stuff on here, ranging from the quirky instrumental synth-pop of Landslide, to the almost Joy Division throb of Sly Doubt. In the great tradition of electronic and industrial music, the vocals are firmly backseat to any variety of rhythm, and there is a lot in here. Beats pulse and twitter along, weaving a path between Stephen Mallinder's almost deranged ramblings, every now and then a lyric slips out, "they are watching, they are stronger", seeming to serve to remind us that it is people making this music, not a cold heartless robot.
Each new track bounces into view, leaving behind the memory of it's predecessor, Black Mask does so with a cold and hard guiding hand, taking listeners to the hell of Sheffield and back. Red Mask is another epic which contains some disjointed imagery and instrumentation, the likes of which Cabaret Voltaire, and no other industrial band would ever again try to better. The album is so grainy and raw at times that it sounds an almost intentional production technique, and it serves listeners well enough to completely set them on edge throughout the album, at points almost expecting someone to jump out the speakers.
Album closer Spread The Virus conjurs up some of Kraftwerks sonic experiments on Autobahn, but this time on the English roads. Perhaps 'Motorway' would have been a better name for this track, and with barely perceptible vocals puncturing through at every opportunity, words do not need to communicate how angry and disaffected this band are on this motorway.
Red Mecca is bookended with samples of Orson Welles' "A Touch of Evil". A Fitting opener, and epitaph for an album that deals with more than just a touch of evil, more directly expressing all that is and was evil about the society in which these musicians lived.