A second glance – reviewing the reviews

Usually a review is largely based on first impressions; one will listen to a new album a few times to get a feel for it and go with one’s gut. But what’s interesting to see if that initial impression sticks. The main reason I wanted to revisit some reviews/first impressions was my sense that I felt let down by Depeche Mode’s Sounds of the Universe. My initial impression was wrapped up in a relief and inherent excitement around their return to form using electronics with a purity they had not in decades. But the more I live with the album the more I am struck by how underwhelming I find the songwriting. Nothing stands out – lots of ‘good songs, Wrong, Corrupt, In Chains, Peace – but nothing that stands as “outstanding”, unique or a serious meaningful addition to the DM pantheon. 

Initial impression > current impression.

At the same time I was cautiously pleased with the new IAMX release, Kingdom of Welcome Addiction, which was simply “better than I thought/feared it was going to be”. On many, many (many!) listens later, the album feels like such a breath of fresh air, so perfect in tone, so spot-0n in terms of production and songwriting prowess, so emotionally powerful it feels like the album of the year so far. Put on the headphones, crank it up and listen to the title track, or Shipwreck of Life or I Am Terrified, or best of all, Teargarden and tell you you aren’t moved emotionally and even physically by the power of this magnificent album. I was way off base in my lukewarm treatment of the record.

Initial impression < current impression.

Client’s new album, Command still feels like a nice addition to their catalogue but much like its predecessor, Heartland its staying power is suspect. Still a fine album but my initial  impression was over the top vis-a-vis where I see the album now – good, not great and suffering for a lack of memorable, standout songs. 

Initial impression > current impression 

On the flip side, I liked Fischerspooner’s new album, Entertainment, but didn’t realize how resonant the album would be on repeated listens. It’s better than I gave it credit for being and I think on reflection their best album to date. 

Initial impression < current impression. 

Finally, it’s comforting to know I’m not exactly “always” wrong at first glance. Initial impressions of most albums, from the sublime new efforts from Polly Scattergood and Yeah Yeah Yeahs to the recycled dreck of the newest from Pet Shop Boys have stood the test of time. So from time to time my gut is right. It’s just nice to occasionally ake a second peek.
I should mention I haven’t written a review for Rupesh Cartel’s new album, Anchor Baby, despite repeated attempts to do so. I have concluded it’s unreviewable from my end (and BTW, thanks to Baldowl for the heads up listen to it). I like Rupesh Cartel, particularly their strong last album, The Disco and the What Not, but find this album to be enjoyably bland lyrically and musically more often than not. Don’t get me wrong, on my highly selective and constantly revolving door of an iPod playlist (maxed out around 1300 songs) I have 14 songs by the band, many of which have been there unmoved, unpurged for years and consider them a band i “like”, but they are equally a band I rarely think about. I can’t recall an occasion when I thought, “I’d really dig some Rupesh Cartel right now”, though when a track comes up on the shuffle I never skip and always enjoy. But once a play is finished I can barely recall it. 
I know an awful lot of folks with whom I share very similar musical tastes who adore the band, including several who have posted to RC threads on this blog and I respect their opinions a great deal but can’t share their passion for Anchor Baby. I don’t dislike it at all (and particularly like lead single “Oh No! Oh No!”) but neither to I enjoy it per se. It just “is”. Long may they continue to serve the cause but there seems to be some kind of chip implanted in my head that prevents me from opening the window and letting the boys from Sweden come in and have their proverbial way with me. 
But then as the thesis for this post proves, maybe that may yet change. Nothing is forever, all is in flux, including ones’ opinions of the leading electronic bands hailing from Scandinavia… 
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4 Responses to “A second glance – reviewing the reviews”

  1. I loved the first two IAMX albums but haven’t heard the new one yet. Suffice to say, my expectations are very high. The DM album was and still is a major disappointment to me: I don’t think it’ll get any better no matter how much I listen to it.

    I find that most of my favourite albums are ones I usually like a little bit at first, then like more and more with each repeated listen. I don’t know whether you ever go back and edit older reviews, but I think this could be a good idea.

    Fantastic blog btw, rare to see such informed and coherent writing!

    • softsynth Says:

      I absolutely agree that the best albums are the slow burners. Sometimes I like an album instantly and it stays with me forever but they are the exception.

      Appreciate the feedback…

  2. pteittinen Says:

    Thanks to Afront for introducing this blog to me via Twitter.

    Sounds of the Universe is a terrible album. It’s not a slow burner either; I’ve been listening to it since the day it leaked and it quite simply refuses to get any better. There are no obvious singles on it and Wrong is easily their worst single ever — it’s barely a song; there’s no chorus and vocal melody consists of two alternating notes. I can’t remember hearing lazier songwriting in ages.

    And let’s be honest here, the album’s not very electronic either. They made a huge brouhaha about emptying eBay of old analog synths, but can you really hear that in the songs? No, you can’t. The synths are buried under drums, distortion and electric guitars. What synths can be heard have been processed to sound like guitars. Take the couple of songs that start with a monotone synth, skip forward a minute and there’s very little synths left in the overall aural spectrum. “Peace” being the only exception to the rule, obviously.

    SOTU fails because of utterly disposable songwriting and confused, harrowing production.

  3. Although I’ve been bitterly disappointed in DM’s previous two (three, maybe? “Ultra” is seems flimsy these days), I determined to give “Sounds of the Universe” a fair trial. After several listens, I’ve decided that it’s better than PTA, about on par with “Exciter,” which was no “Violator,” that album of course being the standard. That said, I don’t like it. It’s hollow and soulless and depressing to entertain from a band that used to drive electronic music. Maybe I’ve simply grown out of Depeche Mode; maybe they didn’t change, but I did. I don’t know. I probably won’t bother with their next release, and I saw them live when they mattered, so I won’t bother attending any concerts.

    Heretofore, I have enjoyed some IAMX, but primarily as a pleasant surprise (“Oh! This is a pretty good song.”) when a track would show up in the shuffle. “Kingdom of Welcome Addiction” achieves the sort of sound Depeche Mode has abandoned all hope of achieving. Some songs, in fact, sound like they could have been included on vintage DM albums. The first time I heard “Nature of Inviting,” I had to open up my music player to check if I was listening to a particularly awesome mix of “Fly on the Windscreen.” Through repeated listening, which engenders repeated listening of greater frequency, this album is becoming a favorite. I really like “I Am Terrified.”

    Rupesh Cartel. Rupesh Cartel. I read your comments here earlier today and have dedicated some time to considering a response. Recognizing that subtle differences in creation can produce vast changes in product, I have to recognize that I don’t really like And One. Fans of electronic music appreciate similar ingredients, but in disparate proportions. As with most everything else, it all boils down to taste. I will admit here, and here only, that I enjoy the music of Coldplay because it’s fun to sing. I’m a carsinger. I karaoke. And Rupesh Cartel is one hell of a lot of fun to sing along with; hearing my voice harmonize with Viktor Ginner’s brings me great commute joy. Maybe that makes all the difference.

    Thanks for the link and the recognition. I wish you continued success with what you’re doing here. As far as I know, you’re the only one doing it.

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