Thursday, 21 July 2016

Cabaret Voltaire - Code (1986)

I've just had a look for my Don't Argue 12", it being the last Cabaret Voltaire record I ever bought new as it turned up in the racks. I was hoping to compare notes because I recall it being fairly rubbish with soulful backing vocals in the spirit of Go West, Johnny Hates Jazz and all the other useless pop wankers of the day. It seemed like Cabaret Voltaire's equivalent of Bowie's Let's Dance 12", not much more than a slightly smelly appendix to an impressive but suddenly finite catalogue indicating that the game was up and there would be no need to bother with future releases. I was hoping to compare notes because the album version of the same track is pretty decent, being thankfully bereft of some woman wailing no, don't argue with me, you better watch your step, boy - woah yeah and all that. Anyway, I no longer have the 12", so I must have got rid of it due to it being shit. Never mind.

No don't argue with me, you better watch your step, boy - woah yeah was why I didn't buy Code. I picked a couple of later singles out of bargain bins, and if they weren't quite so bad as the aforementioned extended jacket with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows megamix of Don't Argue, neither did they do much to change my mind; and then the boys turned up on the telly in track suits adopting acid house mannerisms of such hilariously opportunistic thrust as to make Altern-8 look like Miles Davis. It was clearly all over.

Au contraire, some bloke on the internet explained to me in seemingly implausible defence of Code; so I bought one because it was cheap on Discogs, and both Bill Nelson and Adrian Sherwood are involved - which has to count for something - and curiosity got the better of me.

I was a relative latecomer to Cabaret Voltaire, discovering them mainly through spurious association with Throbbing Gristle - apparently it was usually the other way round for most people. They have become the eternal second name of the list for tedious wankers taking it upon themselves to bring us the story of industrial music - everything from Ministry to U2 and back again. Disregarding for the moment the fact of the term industrial music being a complete waste of time, I personally think the list has it the wrong way round. Throbbing Gristle were often wonderful, but once you've listened to them a few times the novelty wears off, the shock subsides, and it becomes clear that they only ever really did just the one thing. Cabaret Voltaire's back catalogue on the other hand continues to yield new aspects years after the moment has passed. You can listen to those things over and over and still find unfamiliar and unexpected elements. It sounds like a cliché, but I guess that's because they really were all about the music, man, or at least the sonic experimentation but let's call it music anyway. There's weird and startling, but not much in the way of shock effect, and no boggle-eyed interviews banging on about how the Third Reich were really, really interesting.

So here we are, and much to my embarrassment, Code turns out to be pretty damn great. It's clearly something that wouldn't have scared the living shit out of fans of Go West, and doubtless some Parlaphone marketing drone had his fingers crossed for that very reason, but it still sounds like Cabaret Voltaire. Adrian Sherwood's ruthless application of precision sampling and all those hard gated snares works well given that Tackhead records of the time probably weren't a million miles from mid-period Cabaret Voltaire, in spirit and approach if not actual sound. Still we have those elusive sequencers pinging away in the background in approximation of the treated guitar parts on earlier records, and it never quite adds up to a tune or even songs so much as a groove. There's always been a dance element to our music is almost always bullshit, but it applies here when you consider that the influence of dub, James Brown and even Parliament could be heard at least as far back as The Voice of America, certainly more so than anything of more obviously Caucasian thrust.

I had assumed Code to be the sell-out album, probably because I read as much somewhere or other, but it really isn't. The grooves are possibly harder than before, but they aren't doing anything they hadn't already been doing at least since Rough Trade. On the other hand, I had a listen to Groovy, Laidback and Nasty - the one which came after - on YouTube, and the cunt sounds like eight variations on Take That's Relight My Fire, so I think I'll leave it there for a while.

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