'Micro-phonies sounds about right,' quipped my one time friend Paul, 'because they're phonies!' The thrust of his satire - cleverly recycling the same actual joke made by the band in the title of what was then their latest album - was that Cabaret Voltaire had sold out in producing a queer gayboy disco record which may as well have had Boy George singing on it etc. etc.
Bum machines, more like!
Hopefully he exploded when this one came out.
To be fair, the sight of Stephen Mallinder doing the butterfly in a hoodie with a big sporty stopwatch swinging from his neck in the video for Hypnotised is somehow massively comical, and very much suggestive of an album trying far too hard, which is why I've only just bought this. How bad could it be? I asked myself, repeating a question which seems to have informed quite a few of my musical purchases of late.
Obviously it doesn't really sound like a Cabaret Voltaire album, even though it is; but in their defence, the next logical question would be what does a Cabaret Voltaire album actually sound like? I suppose the answer depends on which one you're listening to, and it probably would have been just as weird had they dug out an old copy of Voice of America, analysed how it was recorded, and then impersonated their former selves like we apparently wanted them to. Groovy, Laidback and Nasty scores low for tapes of evangelical preachers, drums played through a flange pedal, or Mal doing that weird vocalising thing which never quite sounds like language so much as Sean Connery having a seizure.
Yushnar arwar sharwar nawurhar…
Groovy, Laidback and Nasty is house music, which doesn't have to be a problem, because 1) if anyone had earned the right to jump on the house music gravy train, it was Cabaret Voltaire, 2) I like house music, and 3) they do it very well.
This last point is what seals the deal, and which differentiates this from one of Porridge's hilarious attempts to get down with da mans dem, and specifically due to the involvement of persons such as Marshall Jefferson and Paris Brightledge; besides which Cabaret Voltaire always had some vague connection to northern soul and black music in general, particularly the sonic experimentation of dub producers. It's not like they ever had much of a through line from Led Zeppelin or Whitesnake; and when you stick the record on, it sounds fucking great - at least more convincing than all those fuckfaced baggy twats of the day, jangling away and insisting that there had always been a dance element to their dopey shuffling songs. Mal's vocal, if limited, is surprisingly conducive to what is basically soul, and the music very much inhabits its genre rather than standing outside waiting to be let in. You can already hear traces of Kirk's Sweet Exorcist beginning to emerge, so it's not even like Groovy fails to bring anything new to the table; and once again I wish somebody had told me all of this back in 1991.