Review Summary: It was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh.
Revival? Worship? Tasteless nostalgia? Place your bets.
Revisiting the 80s is a tightrope. One false move and your identity goes out of the window, replaced with a hollow, fetishised and watered down version of a time that many of us hold dear (whilst at the same time acknowledging that it was a bit... tacky). But let's get one thing clear here. This record is woven from 80s synth work, no doubt, but beneath the shimmering neon veneer, there is an inescapable beauty in the sound-scaping and overall ambience, carving a unique sound despite wearing influences heavily on its sleeve. This is more than just an appreciative trip - this is an exploration of what makes electronic music engaging: it swirls, invites, and involves. It has no fear in sounding cheesy in respect of the genre, but the prime goal isn't to replicate - it is to utilise these tools and make an easily accessible but surprisingly deep synthpop album.
Where, in 2015, Gunship took their respect of the decade and lovingly crafted a fantastic sound-a-like, The Black Queen mash the analog synths and 808 kicks with trippy wobbles and unsettling effects.
Lead single 'Ice To Never' is one of the most outwardly pop-centric tracks on offer here, along with 'Secret Scream', 'Maybe We Should', and 'That Death Cannot Touch' - these all display a kind of Justin Timberlake-meets-The Human League aesthetic, which is altogether a hell of a lot more tasteful and subtle than the sum of its parts. Conversely, splashed around this record are glimpses of a darker, glitchier side to the band; around the unsettling interludes and where the songs bring moments of disarming calm - minimalism could have dominated the songs on offer here, but alongside the sharp, tight percussion and synth stabs, the airy SFX and echoes create a surprisingly rich and full sound. Closer 'Apocalypse Morning' is a particularly satisfying example of this.
Greg Puciato has always been a divisive figure as a clean vocalist, owing mainly to the perceived softness he has brought to The Dillinger Escape Plan (albeit still bookended by overbearing brutality), and if you can't listen to Miss Machine
without skipping 'Unretrofied', this album will assuredly not be for you. However for the rest of us, his tone and skill in delivery is an absolute joy. His breathy falsetto melts over these tracks in assured confidence, oddly reminiscent of Darren Hayes.
This is a wonderful pop record, not prepared to rest on the laurels afforded by pristine production, with dark, sultry, downright sexiness on display at every corner - it never explodes into a garish representation of the source material, preferring rather to snarl and entice from afar.
Check this out.
P.S It is worth acknowledging this however: 'That Death Cannot Touch' could have been a Cameo song. Let that sink in a while.