Cars: The Motion Picture [1993]

Beggars Banquet | UK | CD5 | 1993 | BEG 264 CD

Beggars Banquet | UK | CD5 | 1993 | BEG 264 CD

Gary Numan: Cars UK CD5 [1993]

  1. Cars [’93 Sprint]
  2. Cars [Multivalve]
  3. Cars [Classic]
  4. Cars [Endurance]
  5. Cars [Top Gear]
  6. Cars [Motorway Mix]
  7. Cars [E. Reg]

Back in the lean years of ’88-’95 for Gary Numan, I made it a policy to buy all CD singles that trickled out for him. Just to keep an eye on what was going down with him. 1993 was the point just before things were getting very interesting again for Numan during a doldrum period in his career. I had loved the “Skin Game” CD5 that had come out the previous year. Don’t let anyone tell you that there was nothing good about the much maligned “Machine + Soul” album, which I would not hear for another five years when the “Numa Years” box was released. So when his next CD5 came down the pike, I bought it as usual.

gary numan - thebestof78-83UKCDAI was visiting Murmur records, which had probably morphed into Alobar Books + Music by that point, when I saw a CD5 with seven mixes of “Cars.” The venerable synth rock classic has been given a coat of post-modern remix wax previously in 1987, to signal the “Exhibition” compilation, and five years later, it was time for another stab at a compilation by his label with the imaginatively titled “The Best Of Gary Numan ’78-’83” which at least told people exactly what to expect. While the earlier mixes were at the hands of Zeus B. Held, this time French technophiles Native Soul had control of the board.

“Cars” was an odd duck of a single. Undeniably catchy and novel in its day, it really didn’t follow the hard and fast rules of pop. The classic 1979 version was a fine record, but not one without problems for me, due to the rules it breaks willy-nilly. It has a 30 second intro, several verses from 0:30 – 1:30, an instrumental chorus [a trick OMD also liked to use] and then for 2:25 the song just vamps on its distinctive riff until it fades, about 0:30 late for these ears. I can live with the first three, but I always felt that the original overstayed its welcome. How would these new attempts at mixing it fare?

The ’93 Sprint mix had a new rhythm section , sustained chords and a modest coat of rave paint. The biggest positive difference to my ears was the return of Numan with a repeat of the first two verses midway thorough what was a 2:25 instrumental vamp on the other 7″ versions. That was a nice break from the riffage monotony. The Multivalve Mix was the chilled out dub reggae scented mix that no one had ever asked for. The only factor from the original version that was employed here was Numan’s voice from the verses. The meter of the phrasing was aired with a little dead air out here to match the slower pace of the new rhythm track. Better than the telltale pitch shift that used to accompany tempo alteration, but still nothing to write home about with its staccato sound. When they start manipulating an abstract sample of Numan’s vocals half the way through – one of my least favorite 90s dance tropes – I start looking at the “FF” button. Missable. Very.

The liner notes to this release were pretty cheeky - and not entirely accurate. The Motorway Mix was only 4:31!

The liner notes to this release were pretty cheeky – and not entirely accurate. The Motorway Mix was only 4:31! Click to read.

The Endurance Mix had more of a house feel with an overlong buildup that didn’t really pay off for me. After two minutes there was a clumsy drop where the original oscillating synth intro we all know and love began the song in earnest. The synth percussion was much meeker than the original version, so that’s another strike. It only got remotely interesting when the mix took a turn to modest acid near the end. The Top Gear mix was simply an instrumental version of the Endurance Mix minus the two minute buildup. I can’t say any of these Native Soul remixes did much for me though they are far from being worst of breed 90s remixes. I’ve heard far worse.

gary numan - asylum2JPN4XCDASo it came as a relief when the last two, superior 1987 remixes surfaced at the end of the program. I previously had the delightfully ambient Motorway Mix on the “Asylum 2” Japanese boxed set from 1990. It was still a winner here with its airy, wide open, sampled dubspace. It was so different, yet clearly reflective of the original. Better still, it didn’t follow any dance trends per se. It was the product of Zeus B. Held, who brings a very musical sensibility to the job. Next came the E. Reg version. This was ultimately, the reason why I held onto this CD5 all of these years.

gary numn - cars eregmodelUK7AThe E. Reg model was not on the “Asylum 2” boxed set, only the extended E. Reg model was, so it was nice to finally get this robust remix of the classic tune. The slightly shorter remix took the raw materials of the Numan production and polished it to the typical Zeus B. Held high gloss. Long had I felt that Numan should work with outside producers as his work tends to be too insular for its own good some times. I find his classic mix flat next to the increased dynamic of the E. Reg mix. I love the groovy sampled hook that Held added. The drums were far punchier, the synths more massive, and Numan’s vocals were toughened up with a bit of chorus and EQ to make them pop from the mix. Even though the mix kept the same pacing of the classic mix [0:30 intro, 0:60 verses, instrumental chorus], it shaved 10 seconds off of the long instrumental vamp to fade that was the song’s waterloo to notable effect. Though if the original mix had sounded this dynamic, maybe I wouldn’t have begrudged its being instrumental for over half of its length. There would be many more versions of “Cars,” but I got off of the bus with this third try.

– 30 –

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A Visage Post Script With Logan Sky and Steven Jones

logan-skyWith Visage now concluded, where does that leave us, the fans? There was a lot of talent stirred into Team Visage, and their keyboardist Logan Sky has many irons in the fire that offer ways forward now that the Visage story has wrapped up. Sky is one of the new generation of synth-heads dedicated to vintage gear with an analog emphasis for the textures that effectively got glossed over in the rush to digital synthesis [spits] in the horrible mid-80s. As John Foxx has stated elsewhere; in the mad rush to dump analog for digital, the device’s potentials had been barely investigated before relegating them to the scrapheap of history. Sky’s projects are ready to take their time to investigate.


Chop Chop | 2013 | CC05DD

Chop Chop | DL | 2013 | CC05DD

Logan Sky: Face The Flames DL [2013]

  1. Face The Flames
  2. Blonde Cobra
  3. Guatami
  4. Fightback
  5. Snake Pit
  6. Black Clouds
  7. Start To Shiver
  8. Crash & Burn
  9. Zona Rosa Prime Time
  10. Nightshot
  11. We Fuel Progress
  12. Fightback (Reprise)
  13. Escape From New York (Logan Sky Remix)
  14. Face The Flames (Highway Superstar Remix)
  15. Nightshot (Demo)

Sky’s most recent solo album was an excursion into the world of early 80s synth soundtracks, ala John Carpenter. It’s been highly amusing to see that a generation and a half later, director John Carpenter’s synth soundtracks for his movies have been rediscovered by a new breed who like the tech noir grit that they exuded and consider it a fertile field for experimentation. To invoke a name that cropped up earlier in the Visage review, Roland Romanelli was another touchstone for this sort of instrumental analog synth vibe. The sounds here were rhythmic, to be sure, but not really to be considered dance music. This thread was an exercise in atmospheres re-explored.

Chop Chop | DL | 2015

Chop Chop | DL | 2015

Steven Jones + Logan Sky: Desire Lines DL [2015]

  1. Desire Lines
  2. Desire Lines (OGRE remix)
  3. Cold Fury
  4. Change Your Flight
  5. Change Your Flight (orchestral)
  6. The Distance

This year Sky has teamed up with vocalist Steven Jones and has taken a half-step away from the soundtrack genre to something a little more Post-Punk. Jones stays in the gray area between singing and voice over with these taut slices of minimal synth goodness. Some times Jones performs in a voice over style. At others, he gives a full-bodied vocal performance that pits his dignified voice against the throbbing synths of Sky and recalls the smoky hues of “Fabrique” period Fashion or even more closely, ‘Theoretically Chinese;” the excellent if surprisingly unsung solo album by Tuxedomoon’s Winston Tong. Yesssss [strokes chin thoughtfully]. Anyone who liked that superb album will find much to relish here.

Chop Chop | DL | 2015

Chop Chop | DL | 2015

Steven Jones + Logan Sky: Polaroids DL [2015]

  1. Polaroids
  2. Hi Rise New York
  3. Intersection
  4. The Now Crowd (slow exposure)
  5. Fake
  6. Polaroids (Daygun extended remix)

Jones and Sky have been very productive this year with another EP out just six months later. Visage fans should definitely try the touching tribute to Steve that was “The Now Crowd.”  Their latest was based on the Polaroid trope that plays so crucially in the New Wave and Post-Punk periods.

I need to come to grips with the fact that there is music out there that I would like and it’s only in DL form. On the upside, the cost is modest but you know me. I’m an old guy. I’ll always spend dollars on physical product first. Downloads just grate against my lifestyle. But that attitude must end eventually. Jones and Sky were recently part of the Inaugural New Romantic Festival that occurred in Steve Strange’s home town of Porthcawl, Wales on Halloween. With Steve gone, it was up to Steven Jones to sing lead along with Lloyd Daniels and the rest of Visage in what can be assumed to be the final performance of that band. As shown on “Polaroids,” Jones + Sky are already creating a new branch in the Visage family tree with their own analog electro project as evidenced here.

– 30 –

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Record Review: Visage – Demons To Diamonds [part 3]

visage---demons-to-diamonds-bonus-A[continued from previous post]
The bonus CD-R included with copies of “Demons To Diamonds” featured three additional mixes. The Radio Edit of “Before You Win” was a tight edit of the fantastic leadoff track from the album. It basically lost the Morodereque sequenced middle eight buildup to the song’s extended coda. The song’s dramatic cold ending just came a lot sooner. In a better world, this edit would be issuing our of radios and radio-like devices everywhere. This song has, after a week of listening, burrowed its way deep into my mental iPod for hours of repeat listening.

Next came one more remix of the superb “Never Enough” with a generous helping of Philip Glass vs. Kraftwerk energy on the delightful intro. The Mororder bassline remained stalwart and there were additional interjections of pizzicato energy from the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, but no vocals on this instrumental remix. The rhythm track was gene-spliced from Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” and hearing that methodical machine impulse cheek-by-jowl with warm string sections makes me weep for delights such as “Europe Endless” that now seem so far from possibility with Kraftwerk, but thankfully not Visage! We were left with yet another parting shot revealing just how accomplished a song “Never Enough” was; with more than enough DNA to fuel a plethora of remixes. All good.

Finally, there was a final mix, this time from “Demons To Diamonds.” Orbital may be gone again, but they managed to remix “Star City” from the new album in a brief, wistful ambient instrumental mix. The shimmering ambient mix proved a graceful note to end our experience of the final Visage album on. After living with it for a week now, I’m impressed with how it was able to come together under what are the most difficult of circumstances to really gel into a coherent album that in some ways, follows in the footsteps of “Hearts + Knives” and in others, reflects the direction that the band may have been heading in before Steve Strange’s untimely death.

For a start, this album was ten songs, and 45 minutes in length; a bit longer than “Hearts + Knives” but none the worse for wear. The album flows by quickly and effectively. Like with the last one, there was no filler. The album kicked off with an “all guns blazing” track that immediately grabbed the listener [and really, is there any other way to begin an album now?] before going off onto other eclectic excursions. The last track on side one [or cut 5 on CD] was a portentous, methodically paced track with synthesizer percussion. The first track on side two [number 6 on CD] was an airy confection of delicate insouciance; miles away from the “classic” Visage sound, but sounding gorgeous in any case. The final track was a reflective meditation, straight from the heart of Steve Strange, with his long-term bassist Steve Barnacle, supplying fluid fretless bass. Both albums featured some material brought in from outside the band along with new songs. The pacing on both albums hewed to this format fairly closely, but then there were the differences.

For a start, the biggest change noticeable to these ears was the live band vibe coursing through this new work. In particular, the synthwork by Logan Sky reflected music that sounded more live than programmed. The previous album had synths and programming by Barnacle, with Logan Sky guesting [and playing in the live band lineup] but this time, there was a band in place from the start and Sky handled lead synths with only Sare Havlicek and Mick MacNeil reprising their support roles from the last album. This took the sound a bit closer to rock music than the traditional Visage rock-disco hybrid as it undoubtedly reflected a new phase of Visage that was tempered in live work for the first time ever in the last few years. This meant that if “Hearts + Knives” reflected a 1979 aesthetic in its sound, then the new album pointed to 1978 in comparison. Yes, it was that good.

My initial response to the album was that it was good, but not as electric as my first exposure to “Hearts + Knives” was two years ago, but after a week of listening, I’m hearing a more cohesive album. Possibly down to it being the result of half as many writers as the previous album [other than the two covers here]. While there could only one “Hearts + Knives” to blindside me and deliver so much after a 20 year layoff, “Demons To Diamonds” proffers a new program of material that did not sound at all like a cobbled together posthumous release.

The overall vibe was lighter and almost joyous in a way; making this last album very celebratory in vibe. As with the last album, Steve didn’t shy away from lyrics of sometimes dark introspection and honest self-reflection, but the live band sound kept it from getting too bogged down in shadows. The sound design from Logan Sky even managed to give me a hint of the Roland Romanelli’s “Connecting Flight” album that I have from ’82 with Rusty Egan [!] guesting. It’s just got that airy, vintage analog sound through and through. And with Romanelli cohort Didier Marouani figuring here, maybe that’s intentional. [memo to self: remaster that Romanelli album…] But that’s not to say that the rest of the band is slacking off. For the first time ever, there is a second album from a project that Robin Simon was a part of, playing his distinctive guitar and for that I am doubly grateful.

The last three years have seen Visage release three albums and a carload of excellent singles. As much as I was distressed by Steve’s sudden death last February, the band have served his memory well with this final Visage album. Listening to it is a total pleasure, and I think that with time, it will grow further in my esteem, as did the “Hearts + Knives” album. Back in 2013, I still ranked the first two Visage albums more highly, but that is no longer the case. The last phase of the band offered music that was informed by the late 70s roots of the band, but that was emotionally richer than anything that the band put down on tape back then. This was strictly down to Steve and what he brought to the band equation. In this way, the current Visage managed to reach the “classic, yet contemporary” target that every reformed band shoots for, but misses. And they did it twice. I’m really going to miss Visage, more than I ever would have thought even just five years earlier.

Click here for samples

Click here for samples

The US CD/LP [green, blue or grey vinyl] can be ordered from the Pylon Webstore here and the bonus CD-R edition reviewed [with UK CD or blue/green vinyl] can be ordered in the Visage Webstore.

– 30 –

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Record Review: Visage – Demons To Diamonds [part 2]

steve[continued from previous post]

Aurora unfolded like a lotus flower; all shimmering synths with buttery sax dancing around the streams of synths that were as diaphanous as dragonfly wings. The lyrics were slightly changed from the Adam Fielding original with all of the positivity capped by Steve’s critical change of the word “beautiful” to “merciful.” It’s interesting to hear Visage see how far they can strive for beauty in their final phase. It’s fascinating to hear the band push far outside of the confines of club music as if they didn’t care to be pigeonholed any longer.

The uncredited sax that appeared for the second half of the album beginning here was strongly redolent of Alan Sheppard’s playing on Freur’s “Doot Doot” album. It had that same summery, carefree quality that I’d previously heard on a song like “Runaway.” It could be Steve Barnacle’s brother Gary, who was a member for 1984’s “Beat Boy” album, but Steve Norman was thanked in the credits here. It sounds like it could be either to my ears.

bottin - punicafidesUKCDAAfter Bottin remixed “Never Enough” for the band, it looks like Steve did a quid pro quo for Bottin by co-writing the song “Poison Within” for Bottin’s “Punica Fides” album of last year. It re-emerged here in a decidedly different form as “Your Skin Is My Sin.” The number lost it’s original loose-limbed funkiness, but the version here burns more intensely. It’s the darkly introspective number from the second half of the album where Strange confronts his demons in the lyrics that baldly stated “Once more I’m left on my own and I try not to screw up my whole life.”

It gained a lot from the band playing the song here, with Steve Barnacle’s  taut basslines contrasting with Robin Simon’s flanged rhythm guitar. Logan Sky’s synths supplied an atmospheric ostinato to the track and Simon’s flanged wah-wah solo at song’s end sounded like a cry for help.

The effervescent “Clubscene” was a winsome serving of electropop that simply reeked of the production sound on the last OMD album, “English Electric.” This was remake of a 2007 track “Clubscene Popscene” by Hiem. Specifically the Diskopop Version, not the darker original mix. In this instance the band adhered tightly to the cover template to the point where it sounded exactly like the Hiem remix version. Here, the live band were not in evidence as the drum machines and programmed synths dominated the sound for the one time on the album, leaving it to be a compassionate look back to a life spent in clubland. I’m sure Strange had seen lots of girls like the one on the song.

Finally, it was time for a Visage instrumental! There had not been one of these since the debut album [but that one had three], and when Steve died, I felt that it would not be a shock if there were some tracks that there might not have been a vocal take from Steve for them. The precedent was certainly there, but this was a track that due to the Russian narration on it, I could hardly imagine being a full song with Steve singing. “Star City” plays like a less campy sequel to “Moon Over Moscow” as the song paid tribute to the Soviet astronaut training center that was the backbone of their space program. The keys here were regal and elegant as the CR-78 kept the time, but I couldn’t help but wonder if co-writer Didier Marouani wasn’t also playing synths on the track himself. When the male Russian vocal choir from “Moon Over Moscow” made a showing half way through singing a new melody it was a brilliant touch.

Then the album proper reached its end with another introspective reflection from Strange with Steve Barnacle playing a fluid fretless bass line. In that aspect, “Never” was similar to “Breathe Life” from “Hearts + Knives,” with the exception that the full band were in evidence here, unlike more spartan 2013 track. The airiness of the tune certainly recalled the vibe of China Crisis as Steve delivered a benediction to cap off the album with one final expression of positivism. Sadly, his last to reach our ears.

Next: …Bonus round

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Record Review: Visage – Demons To Diamonds [part 1]

visage - demonstodiamondsUKCDA

August Day UK | 2xCD | 2015 | ADAY023

Visage: Demons To Diamonds DLX UK 2xCD [2015]

Disc 1

  1. Before You Win
  2. Become
  3. Loving The Alien
  4. Days Become Dark
  5. Seven Deadly Sins [Part III]
  6.  Aurora
  7. Your Skin Is My Sin
  8. Clubscene
  9. Star City
  10. Never

Disc 2

  1. Before You Win [Radio Edit]
  2. Never Enough [Richard Stone + John Bryan In Prague Version]
  3. Star City [Orbital Ambient Version]

I have to admit it; the second I heard of Steve Strange’s tragic death last February, the first thought that ran through my mind was “Oh, I hope that they got his vocals down for the upcoming album!” Selfish, I know, but I had gotten so much out of the new Visage project. It completely exceeded all expectations and stood alone as an example of how to mount a comeback that respected the band’s legacy [and even enhanced it] but with all eyes pointing forward to the here and now. The album sounded fantastic; like a fantasy Visage album recorded in 1979 with Robin Simon on guitar straight out of Ultravox, but the songs contained emotional frissons that were absolutely not part and parcel of any previous music by Visage. It made the package a lot richer for me.

Word began to filter out a couple of months ago about “Demons To Diamonds,” the final Visage album, and when the preorder web shop copy was announced with a bonus remix CD-R, I wasted no time in ordering my copy.

It arrived on Thursday and I’ve been giving it a few listens. Like the “Hearts + Knives” album, this one leads off with a strong cut. “Before You Win” featured distinctive “detuned” synths juxtaposed against flanged synth riffs that parried with the tougher guitar lines. If there was a drum machine here, it was mixed far down, giving the track a live in the studio vibe. Steve sounded like he may have been addressing the song to himself. The arrangement was sophisticated and almost jazzy here for a real different vibe.

For “Become,” the synth bass in the intro syncopated wonderfully with the drums and the guitar of Robin Simon. Vocalist Lauren Thomas got a striking center stage spotlight on the song’s wonderfully hooky chorus, where Steve sang a subordinate melody line where he repeated just the song’s title. It’s an effervescent tune that really delivered. It was all the more shocking because I had heard the first release of this Midge Ure tune, which felt disappointing in contrast. In fact, the Visage version of this song was so good, I really didn’t recognize it as the Midge Ure single from last year until some research on the number revealed the shocking fact. The Visage team really pulled this one together in a way that I would have never imaged up front.

Then came a much higher profile cover version; “Loving The Alien.” I have to hand it to Steve; it took nerve to cover this star-crossed Bowie song. It has stood the test of time as the standout track from the ghastly “Tonight” album of 1984, but that didn’t mean that it couldn’t be improved upon. While Bowie’s songwriting and vocal there were on form, the arrangement and production of the number always veered into [I suspect] unintended kitsch. The CR78 rhythm bed, with shimmering bursts of synths setting up the song here got off on a much better footing. Robin Simon supplied what the original was most lacking in spades; memorable guitar playing. The end result had a much tighter band vibe than on the tentative earlier version by the Detroit Starrzz. While still no match vocally for The Dame, Steve sounded much stronger here than on the 2012 version. Strange could never out sing Bowie [and he’d be the first to admit it], but the arrangement and playing put across what this song had always needed; the fat trimmed off and a tougher dance stance supplanting the rococo camp of the original.

The resilient “Days Become Dark” featured stronger, grimier riffage from Simon over its insistent beat. This suited the lyrics perfectly until the lead in from the first verse to the upbeat chorus filled the somewhat downbeat song with the kind of paradoxical energy that always works for me. Lauren Thomas’ backing harmonies on the chorus really help to lift it higher. I really respond to euphoric music with melancholy lyrical content like this. I loved how the middle eight floated by in dreamlike, helf-speed tempo before tightening up for the coda.

The last song on “side one” was a known quantity to me. I’ve had the 12” of “Lost In Static” for some time now, and its B-side was “The Seven Deadly Sins [part 2]” and the nearly eight minute track was what I assumed was an extended version of the one on this album. I could not have been more wrong! Part Three as evidenced here, was a radically different version with a drastically slower tempo and featuring one of my favorite old wave synth techniques; white noise synth percussion for rhythm. Every aspect of the song was different. Primarily, the spaced-out, slow motion blues licks on offer from Robin Simon here recalled Charlie Burchill most strongly, which was an irony considering that Mick MacNeil’s distinctive keys were all over Part Two, but absent on this track. The verses were excised from here as well, and the chorus was enhanced with Lauren Thomas’ harmonies. Parts Two and Three were so different I really am wondering what Part One could possibly be like.

Next: …Side two beckons

Posted in Core Collection, New Romantic, Record Review | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments