Album review

Doom With A View

THREE MANTRAS

THE VOICE OF AMERICA

RED MECCA

2 × 45

ALL MUTE

It's difficult to convey just how important Cabaret Voltaire's Richard H Kirk and Stephen Mallinder (and, in the very early days, Chris Watson) have been to electronic music; like Kraftwerk, the times have long since caught up with and overtaken them.

They arose from the grey paranoia which characterised the initial onset of post-punk music in the UK. Never as extreme as Throbbing Gristle nor as personal as Joy Division, they steered a stealthy course between the two. Their artistic peak was between the years 1979 and '82. Although severe and uncompromising in their early sampling/cut-up/avant-electro approach, they also skirted the pop-dance mainstream far more closely than was generally acknowledged: hear their reconstruction of the Velvets' "Here She Comes Now" on the Live At The YMCA album for proof.

1980's The Voice Of America comes across as a more politicised version of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, and the questions it raises about American imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism remain pertinent today. "Damage Is Done" and "Kneel To The Boss" are merciless in their attack. Urban alienation anthems "This Is Entertainment" and "Obsession" were just outside the grasp of 1980-pop.

On their masterpiece, 1981's Red Mecca, they pulled all their various aesthetic strands together and struck the perfect balance between experimentalism and entryism. It merits contention beside those other icons of Sheffield electronic pop, Dare! and Penthouse And Pavement. The newly clarified rhythms of "Sly Doubt" and the proto-electroclash "Red Mask" support fantastic avant-pop, while the epic "A Thousand Ways" is a shroud of doom which threatens to engulf the listener.

Their final 'indie' album was 1982's 2 × 45. A transitional record, its highlight is the epic "Yashar", which consolidated the innovations of what may be the most important and influential of all these records, Three Mantras (also 1980), the two tracks on which offered templates for, respectively, techno and world beat.

Rating: 2 / 10


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