Review Summary: Excellent post-punk/goth rock album with haunting saxophone and a moody atmosphere
Gothic rock is a very misunderstood genre nowadays. With bands like H.I.M
now being tagged as ‘gothic’, many people don’t know that the original gothic bands were an offshoot of the post-punk genre that was very popular in the early 1980’s.
Released in 1982, Theatre of Hate’s ’Westworld’ shows strong influence from post-punk like Joy Division
and early gothic bands such as Bauhaus
and Christian Death
, so fits nicely into the classic goth rock subgenre, mixing usually quite simple punk music with a very dark and brooding atmosphere.
The album opens with the fantastic ‘Do You Believe In The Westworld"’, one of the best songs of the album and one that highlights the biggest strength of Theatre of Hate; being able to mix bouncy energetic punk music with a melancholy atmosphere perfectly, so that the music always sounds very moody but also very catchy and accessable and gripping throughout its entire running length.
A lot of the focus of the album’s music is on the rhythm section, with bassist Stan Stammers’ excellent melodic basslines and gallops and Luke Rendle’s quite complex and inventive drumming driving the album forward. Often the electric guitar is only used as background instrument to add an extra layer to the music when needed, and only the drums and bass play. The real highlight though is the amazing saxophone (and occasionally clarinet) playing of John 'Boy' Lennard. The saxophone gives the music much of its uniqueness and contributes greatly to the overall atmosphere by usually playing slow sorrowful melodies that sound as if they are echoing from the distance. Occasionally the saxophone is brought forward such as in the chorus of ’Conquistador’, but never becomes at all cheerful sounding. In ’Conquistador’ it gives the music a more ’epic’ sound. A piano is also used at times to enhance the atmosphere, but is usually kept to playing just simple melodies and doesn’t do a lot more. It does it’s job effectively though, and fits with the minimalistic style of the rest of the music.
Kirk Brandon sings on the album. His singing, while technically not brilliant, fit’s the music perfectly. He sings in quite a calm and slightly high-pitched tone, singing every note with the same doleful emotion. Even though he doesn’t have a huge singing range he can change his voice enough to fit the music, shouting more aggressively at the heavier parts. Brandon’s lyrics, focusing on politics, anguish and loss aren’t particularly impressive but also fit the music perfectly. Backing singers are also sometimes used, including a female backing singer who sings a song by herself, ‘Anniversary’. Like Brandon she is not technically impressive but sings with the same emotion, adding perfectly to the eerie haunting feel of the track.
None of the original album tracks are at all weak and the album is very consistent throughout. The bonus tracks, ’Nero’, ‘Incinerator’ and ‘Propaganda’ are not quite as strong though, focusing more on the punk aspect of Theatre of Hate‘s music than their more atmospheric side.
The album’s production is very strong, and can be credited for creating the dark mood. Even when the instruments are playing lively tunes like on ‘Freaks’ (a song complete with a section where they play circus music) the sound remains down-tempo and bleak. While the guitars are mixed quite far back they still have plenty of power and are kept from overpowering the rhythm and saxophone dominated music which would probably ruin the atmosphere. Because it is quite minimalistic and not nearly as excessive as many other bands from the early 1980’s, save for a few echo effects, it has aged quite well. However, there are some times where it can sound quite dated. This isn’t that much of a problem however, and is quite easy to ignore.
Overall, ‘Westworld’ is a fantastic album, and except for the slightly dated production and at times slightly weak singing there is little about it that can be criticised.