Heavily influenced by Talking Heads, Brian Eno and LCD Soundsystem, De Lux shows with Generation that it’s ok to be influenced by your heroes and that you can still make something new from it.
Oh Man the Future is focused on despair of the future dystopia, Sean Guerin singing a frantic list comprised of flying cars, cyborgs and World War 4, but manages to turn that crushing panic into something you can dance to.
“39 more U.S. presidents until a woman finally makes it into office -not that it'll really matter- but a year later a revolution happens and the war for hunger and poverty ends; the government is destroyed (Oh man, the future!)”
Oh Man the Future feels like the Once in a Lifetime of this album, and my god it’s a strong song, with Sean's exhortations of “oh man the future!” becoming more frequent until it’s repeated once every other line, becoming a mantra, losing meaning through repetition and feeling like one big long stream of consciousness. 30 is reminiscent of Rip it Up and Start Again by Orange Juice, but the singing is distant and far away, like it’s heard faintly through a closed window giving you a strange feeling of disassociation, like an out of body disco. The whole album is a series of strange and disparate images transfused with funk and synths and feels like a lost Talking Heads album remixed by LCD Soundsystem. I’ll try to make that my last comparison to LCD and Talking Heads, but to be quite honest, it’s a hard call to make as De Lux really does bear an uncanny sonic resemblance to them. It’s like asking somebody not to compare Tori Amos to Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell – the resemblance is there, and it’s not going to go away just because you don’t acknowledge it.
I can’t help but be reminded of my disappointment in Arcade Fire’s Reflector album. I heard the titular single of that album, and hearing Bowie doing backing vocals and the Eno-esque brass instruments in the background and the synth beat, I thought I was going to get Arcade Fire’s Berlin album, and that they were going to go all Station to Station, or that it would be a new and darker sound like what was a totaly sea change in Depeche Mode when they recorded Construction Time is Here Again. What I got instead was an album that wasn’t anywhere near as dark, interesting and weird as I wanted – it was like Arcade Fire through the lens of LCD Soundsystem, and as a result wasn’t as good as either. However the key difference here if that De Lux has managed to pull off what Arcade Fire didn’t, and makes an album as funky as it is compelling and strange. It is an album that is the sum of its influences, Talking Heads, Eno and LCD, but De Lux does it so masterfully it doesn’t really matter – it’s a great album in its own right, it’s social conscience funk with post-punk and disco beats. A lyric in Oh Man the Future manages to sum it up better than I ever could:
“Lots of people seem to be trying to do what others are not doing, but they don't just switch, since everyone is trying to do what everyone is not doing, it turns into what everyone was essentially doing”
Imagine you’re riding in a convertible at the end credits of an 80’s movie with an electronic beat and the lyrics sung completely in Spanish. There’s a romance in not knowing what Julieta is singing, but there’s wistfulness in her voice that suggests it’s about love and loss, and I don’t want to spoil the mystery by checking Google Translate. Sometimes the feeling an album evokes by how it’s sung is more important than the lyrics, such is the case with Julieta who sounds like a Hispanic Suzanne Vega with her blending of genre of electronic, folk and pop music. The album title translates as “Something Happens.” I think it sums up the fragility and uncertainty of emotion, but maybe it just means that life is a random series of events and sometimes it’s better to just go with the flow than try to assign any meaning to it.
Originally printed in Issue #324 of the Kirkby Extra, September 2015.
There couldn’t be a more relevant time for Public Enemy to return when the question of race looms large in America and what it means to be black in a country in a world post the fatal shooting of Michael Brown due to police brutality and the civil unrest that has occurred in Ferguson consequently.
The album begins with No Sympathy for the Devil, a song in dialogue with the Rolling Stones song whilst also acting as a criticism to Obama of the people he got in bed with when he became president. The song questions just how much power a black president can have in the White House.
“Didn’t you see this coming?/The great satan, a global terrorist/Didn’t you see the smoke?”
The price for power is to become a puppet for the ambitions of white hegemony and to become powerless, a figurehead who can’t see they’re sitting on a bonfire until they smell their feet burning. It also acts as a criticism of America, and how far the country has fallen from the American Dream of freedom and prosperity for all. Me to We is a song about reclaiming that dream, with the constant refrain of “we the people” referring to The Preamble to the United States Constitution. The song is one about working towards rebuilding the spirit of the Constitution and making an America that has previously only existed in dreams a reality.
Earthizen is an explosive track that acts as a mnemonic, running from A-Z, and is quite possibly the strongest track of the whole album, and probably the strongest use of the mnemonic as a song since IRAQ by Flobots.
Q – Question is it right or is it wrong?
R – Right on, listen to the song
S – Sacrifice for the team
T – Time to make something mean
U – Means we under arrest
V – Victims of the system stress
W – We instead of me the narrative
The song questions black identity in a narrative defined by white men, and the sacrifices inherent in having your racial identity and your destiny under control by someone else. It says that America is a broken system, and that the victims of that system are black lives and liberty, and that it’s only by everyone working together and changing the narrative from one of selfishness to one of selflessness can the country truly get better.
In summation, whilst it’s not Public Enemy’s strongest album (there’s a few duff tracks in there like Honky Talk Rules, Praise the Loud, and Lost in Space that just didn’t work for me) they still know how to bring it and produce powerful, resonant songs and protest rap at a time when we really need to hear it. In a post-Ferguson world America needs Public Enemy to amplify the voices of the disenfranchised and the betrayed - to remind us the American Dream isn't a reality for all, but that it can be.
A recursive siren sounds as if in response to a distress call, punctuated by bass and bleeps. Sometimes I Feel So Deserted is lyrically sparse, having only one chorus, plaintively sung “Sometimes you feel so deserted/But hold on cos hope is on the way,” building to a crescendo and offering a feeling of hope, that loneliness doesn’t last so long as you have people who care about you.
Go features the sublime rap lyricism of Q-Tip, and begins with a bass like the slap of an arse. It’s a song of motion, of breaking the mold, of never daring to stop or you’ll die. The song beings with the lyrics “Can’t think, can’t sleep, can’t breathe,” trapped between insomnia, panicking and feeling trapped the song is frantic 3.40, whilst also being an exhortation to get out and dance with the opposite sex using the imagery of assassination as metaphor for seduction. The line “Mannequins say “We breakin’ the mold”/Breakin’ out and we breakin’ the codes” perfectly encapsulates the kind of people who blindly follow trends whilst being enslaved by them, not realising the consumerist bullshit that’s been sold to them, and that rather than breaking the mold they’re just stepping further into it.
Under Neon Lights features the intriguingly eccentric St Vincent, and is a trippy, detached view on a person’s life. Like Talking Head’s song Once in a Lifetime, there is a disassociation from the protagonist’s life and her desires whilst dwelling on how she has no husband, no wife, no bonds left in this world. It’s a rejection of the societal expectations of marriage and the role women have to play – this is echoed by the line “is this really what I want?” She has only the intention to kill herself and her singular desire “all I want’s a view tonight.”
The titular track, Born in the Echoes, actually comes quite late in the proceedings, and echoes the cold detachment of Under Neon Lights and also the state between awake and asleep, of feeling a different type of awareness by having your feet in two worlds, of “being caught inbetween.” The song also suggests a type of synesthesia, of being able to see “rings of sound,” echoing the image of being trapped between the intersection of two circles like a Venn diagram of sound, of “being born in the echoes,” and influenced by the fringes of music.
Wide Open featuring Beck in trance mode, and is another standout track on the album about a man opening himself up emotionally, but drifting apart from his lover. He knows that love is going to hurt him, but he can’t be anything that he isn’t, he has to remain open to love. Despite the forlorn lyrics, the whole song feels like drifting in the ocean whilst looking at the stars. Yes, love doesn’t last, but he will love again, and that’s what matters. I’d say Born in the Echoes is a return to form, but really the Chemical Brothers never really went away.
Monthly music columnist for the Kirkby Extra, sometimes article writer for Get Into This. Freelance writer/artist/maker.