Let's start with 'Paddington', the first single from this new Blancmange record and deservedly so. Not only does it neatly reference the sounds of Blancmange of days of yore with its fusion of layered electronics and Eastern sitar sounds, but it's also a cracking pop song with the boxes for great hooks and catchy melodies well and truly ticked. 'Paddington' - it's about the London station by the way, and not the bear - also hints at the further delights contained in 'Semi Detached', an album of light and dark, texture and melody, and of bold electronic experimentation.
Neil Arthur's vocals are what make this album so quintessentially Blancmange, whether they're understated and moody as on the catchy eight-minute opener 'The Fall', or more upbeat and urgent as on the more dance-floor orientated 'Like I Do' they are instantly distinctive and utterly recognisable, even if lyrically they are frequently obtuse and rather strange.
Arthurs voice also adds an essential and very human layer to a collection of songs that deftly layer vintage analogue synth sounds. Sometimes the layers are dense and atmospheric, and echo perhaps the sounds of early Human League, like they do on the album's sole instrumental track 'MKS Lover' - a favourite - which combines an electronic throb with clattering percussion and simple squelchy beats, and sometimes they exhibit a lighter touch as on the simpler, more plaintive 'Deep In The Mine'.
The band give a nod to their influences on their dance-orientated cover of Can's 'I Want More' which in places uses sounds that recall the primitive 8-bit computer sounds of the first home computers. Dance-floor sensibilities also take centre stage on 'Acid' - another favourite - which layers cheesy disco pulses (think Kelly Marie's 'Feels Like I'm In Love') with screeching electronic effects and something akin to melodic morse code.
All too soon the ten-rack album careers to a halt after the understated, but frankly brilliant, 'Bloody Hell Fire' which, in its juxtaposition of guitars and electronics recalls the dark moodiness of Depeche Mode as well as an otherworldly moody echoing guitar sound that wouldn't be out of place on a Cocteau Twins record. But that's not really the end as 'Semi Detached' is an album that demands repeated listening, and on each fresh listen there are new rewards. An album that truly keeps on giving.
The Fall / I Want More / Paddington / It Didn't Take Long / MKS Lover / Like I Do / Deep In The Mne / Acid / Useless / Bloody Hell Fire
'Semi Detached' was released on March 23rd 2015 on CD, vinyl and download via Cherry Red.
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