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CD Review - Nitzer Ebb - Industrial Complex

 


Title: Industrial Complex
Label: Major Records (for Europe)



When NITZER EBB announced their reunion tour in support of their ‘Body of Work’ best of album in 2006, the fan base was in shock - it was an event no-one had on the bill. After an 11-year silence and rumours that Douglas McCarthy and Bon Harris, the two minds behind the band, were not exactly on best terms with each other made a reunion something nobody dared to hope for. The first reunion shows were a massive success, and what was meant to be a very limited number of dates soon developed into a full world tour. As early as August 2006 it was announced that NITZER EBB began to work on new studio material, and soon some of the new songs appeared in the band’s live sets to test grounds. ‘Payroll’ and ‘Once You Say’ were the first new tracks which surfaced, and since their first performances both have become NITZER EBB new live classics. In January 2010, a lot later than the band hoped, the new album titled ‘Industrial Complex’ will see finally the light of day with a release on Major Records, a German label where NITZER EBB will be in the good company of IAMX, MESH, LADYTRON and BOYTRONIC.

The situation is actually pretty difficult for NITZER EBB. Their last studio release was ‘Big Hit’ in 1995 - almost fifteen years ago! A comeback after such a long hiatus is tricky for any band, it’s simply too easy to fail. There’s the danger of sounding dated when you’re too close to the old sound, or too sound lifeless and dull when a band just tries to revive the “good old times”. When the new stuff is too different to the previous releases you run the danger that the fans simply won’t accept it, no matter if the new material is good or not. A pretty tricky situation for NITZER EBB indeed! The fact that their last album ‘Big Hit’ isn’t exactly a fan favourite doesn’t help much either. The good news is, that ‘Industrial Complex’ is one hell of an album, and, for me personally, a jaw-dropping experience at first listen! It’s on the one hand very reminiscent of NITZER EBB’s glorious days from ‘Belief’ (1989) to ‘Ebbhead’ (1991), on the other hand ‘Industrial Complex’ sounds fresh and NITZER EBB prove with this output that they still are relevant. Bearing in mind how many different artists they’ve influenced with their past work, perhaps even more relevant than ever.

The album kicks of with ‘Promises’, also a recent addition to the band’s live set, and the sequencer lines just drill in your head. It is a pretty classic NITZER EBB track with Douglas McCarthy singing in his seductive trade-mark style. He refrains from shouting slogans in ‘Total Age’ style - here, and for most of the album. ‘Once You Say’ hammers in next, a track which features Martin L. Gore of DEPECHE MODE delivering backing vocals. DM fans will regret that Gore is pretty buried in the mix, though. However, this is a storm of a song with an incredible energy, absolutely irresistible rhythms and a great hook in the chorus. If we’d live in times when single releases would still make sense, ‘Once You Say’ would surely be the top candidate for the lead single of the album. After two tracks full of door-slamming rhythms, NITZER EBB slows down the pace with ‘Never Known’. It starts as a dark bluesy crawl, hinting at the band’s ‘Showtime’ period, and when McCarthy’s deep voice comes in you get the idea that the brooding atmosphere is just false security, that there’s a dangerous beast hiding somewhere, and this beast suddenly jumps at you when the chorus erupts. ‘Never Known’ is a track which nourishes from these dark / eruptive dynamics and the demonic qualities in Douglas McCarthy’s vocal chords. This guy never stops to amaze me!

A surprisingly dreamy soundscape comes next with ‘Going Away’, perhaps the closest the album ever gets to a ballad. McCarthy’s singing is emotionally charged and lines “all roads lead away from me… you’re going away from me” make clear that not everything is cosy in this dreamy soundscape, a song about departure and being left, and a new facet in NITZER EBB’s universe. “I’m not in love with you, not matter what you do”, sings McCarthy in track no. 5 ‘Hit You Back’, another song which picks up the bluesy side of NITZER EBB and combines it with stacks of electronic beats and sequences. McCarthy has never sounded as alluring as in this mid-tempo track, and his vocal delivery nicely contrasts the rather cynical lyrics. Ear-piercing, swirling noises and marching rhythms are the trademark of ‘Payroll’, which should be familiar to those who saw NE live over the last two years. The track has many hallmarks of the very early NITZER EBB but at the same time it might be the weakest track on the album, at least in my book. Which means 7 out of 10 - other bands would kill to have something like this as the “weakest” track of the album!

Driving a car very fast at night, that was the first association when I listened to ‘On Your Knees’. The rhythms are pretty, well, driving while eerie samples pass by. McCarthy’s singing (yes, again no chants!) has a great flow to it and add to the impression of driving/travelling. One of the most danceable tracks of the album for sure! The next song ‘I Don’t Know You’ keeps up this pace and adds acoustic drums (probably played by Jason Payne, the new third man in the boat) to it. It’s getting darker again with ‘My Door Is Open’, a very well orchestrated song with a great built-up which plays with those slow/fast dynamics again. The track reminds me a little on Douglas McCarthy’s collaboration with Alan Wilder’s RECOIL project. It’s also one of the few songs which actually features guitar, even though it’s just as samples. ‘I’m Undone’ creates a similar, somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere. The piano bit resembles a classic Trance club tune but I’m still trying to figure which one. However ‘I’m Undone’ is one of the album’s deeper and more sophisticated moments.

Time for a change and to give what many fans are craving for! The title ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ leaves no doubt what to expect: Stomping beats and staccato rhythms, shouted slogans (yes, finally you get them!) and a raw and pure sound. Should become a live staple at future NITZER EBB shows! ‘Travelling’ closes the album and is again one of the deeper moments of ‘Industrial Complex’. It’s basically a rather up-tempo track, and the rhythms have a Break-beat / Trip Hop flavour to them. But it combines it with the Blues feel the band established on ‘Showtime’ and the song’s backbone is a looped, oddly descending string-bass sample. McCarthy leads us through the song in a rather narrative style, and ‘Travelling’ is one of the album’s tracks which rely on rather traditional song structures, and especially McCarthy’s style here makes sure that ‘Travelling’ is one of the softer moments on ‘Industrial Complex’.

So here we go, NITZER EBB’s first new studio album in fifteen years. Bon Harris and Douglas McCarthy, with the help of Jason Payne, truly mastered the challenge to deliver a piece of work which sounds fresh and modern but without denying their past. ‘Industrial Complex’ is a pretty diverse album but without being uneven, with killer arrangements by Harris, great vocals by McCarthy and a lot of love for detail. But NITZER EBB never get lost in details, they focus on the essence of each track - something they’ve always been particularly good at - and thus ‘Industrial Complex’ will work perfectly on the dance floor as well in live clubs and at home on headphones. In January and February 2010, NITZER EBB will tour Europe with their old label-mates DEPECHE MODE as well as doing several headliner shows. Here’s hoping that NITZER EBB will capitalize greatly from exposing their new songs to crowds of tens of thousands! January 22nd is the date any fan should mark with a red cross in his calendar!


Tracklist


01. Promises
02. Once You Say
03. Never Known
04. Going Away
05. Hit You Back
06. Payroll
07. On Your Knees
08. I Don’t Know You
09. My Door Is Open
10.
I’m Undone
11. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
12. Travelling


 


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