Review Summary: Electronic Body Music recorded on 8 tracks.
Front 242's second album is the only record I know to have inspired an (informal) international holiday. The liner notes bearing the simple description "ELECTRONIC BODY MUSIC COMPOSED AND PRODUCED ON EIGHT TRACKS BY FRONT 242" gave a name to a growing genre of underground electronic music, and thus every February 24 (24-2 in European notation, get it?) is now observed as International EBM Day. No kidding. For one more piece of trivia before diving into the music, No Comment
is also unusual in that the song titles are listed on the LP sleeve in alphabetical order instead of playing order (the two sides of the record are more or less grouped by compositional similarity). However, the CD reissues changed the track order so that they now do play alphabetically, as seen to the right of this review. A later version of the CD also adds four bonus tracks to the end.
Whichever version you have, the album opens with "Commando Mix," an ambitous statement of intent extending for over nine minutes. Do you remember seeing sociological documentaries on television use stereotypical sped-up footage of a bustling metropolis, crowds of individual people going about their business taking on the appearance of an ant colony or organized machine? No Comment
is the musical equivalent of that image, industrial society's restless march to oblivion rendered as an endless dance track, as aggressively energetic as it is alienated. A voice exclaims simply but poignantly, "I'm shiverring." The documentary stock footage in my head switches to air traffic in slow motion. Even early in their career, Front 242 are in top form, well beyond a lot of EBM material even today. Vocal sampling is used with great subtlety (a bit of a lost art in the genre), adding depth and texture to the compositions that make this record as interesting on headphones as on the dancefloor. The intros and outros even point to the more experimental roots of this music: dreary horn sounds, or the metallic din of "S.FR Nomenklatura II." The other side of No Comment
(following the vinyl tracklist) contains some of Front 242's catchiest EBM "synthpop" songs, from the sarcastically upbeat "Lovely Day" to the rising paranoid madness of "Special Forces," presenting the more personal side of the band. The attention to odd background details is still a defining feature and the mixing of different vocal tracks (and samples?) is used to great effect, with clean, measured lead vocals accompanied by raw abstract expressions of emotion in the background. Fan favourite "No Shuffle" is a cold song with its ominous bassline and odd lyrics contrasting a hectic modern life with an empty arctic wasteland: "There is no shuffle here, here on the North Pole..." Hey, wouldn't this make a great song to play around Christmas for all the Santa Claus nonbelievers out there?
Front 242 went on produce other very fine albums, eventually updating their style to incorporate industrial rock and '90s electronica influences. No Comment
remains essential listening as the literally genre-defining example of first wave EBM, both musically and aesthetically. This is what I consider EBM at its most relevant, combining emerging underground dance music with a perceptive anxiety of the 1980s as a kind of perpetual motion machine. Hearing it now 28 years after its initial release, I have to marvel at how right they turned out to be.