Review: Nitzer Ebb – Industrial Complex

They’re baaaack. And about time too, they’ve been sorely missed. Nitzer Ebb’s last effort was their 1995 album, Big Hit, which Softsynth loved but upset many NE fans with its pop influences (we also got to see them on tour that year and they were in fine form). So after nearly 15 years away from the studio what have they deigned to share with us? Something pretty awesome as it turns out.

A little background/perspective first: In 1985/86 a young teenage Softsynthette was just beginning to understand the genre which at that point was either synthpop of the early Depeche Mode/Human League variety or the marginally more experimental O.M.D., or the moodier, slightly gothier strains influenced by the likes of DM’s Black Celebration. We then picked up a cassette of NE’s That Total Age and at first – hated it. A lot. It was just screaming and what sounded like hitting pipes with bits of metal. Shelved it. But we would occasionally pull it down and play it – just to ensure we felt like we were getting out $8.99 Cdn-worth – and it grew on us. By the time Belief came out we were anxious for an Ebb return. And we were rewarded – the song writing was better, the “musicality” was strengthened and the blend was starting to really hit its mark. Each successive album blended more sounds, more melody, and more song craft up to and including Big Hit. But harking back to That Total Age, Nitzer Ebb did more to teach us that there was so much more to electronic music. From the day we first listened to that cassette we began to open our eyes and stretch outward both looking into the disparate roots of the genre as well as looking to different segments of the community including industrial, ambient, trance and dozens more. All thanks to Bon Harris and Douglas McCarthy.

So to the present. Bottom line, this album is so exceptional that if we had our druthers we would crack open the best of the year list and consider inserting this into the mix (however, even as this “tour edition” is being sold on tour and even on iTunes, it is still listed as being a March, 2010 release so we will respect the official time line.

Harris and McCarthy have done exactly what needed doing on a Nitzer Ebb comeback – maintain the industrial roots and build on the solid melodies they began to perfect in the mid-90s. They even go out on a few limbs that work better than they should including a blues riff on “Travelling” and a genuinely pretty, sad ballad in “Going Away”. They also pull out the old-school NE on tracks like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” which would have passed for a That Total Age track or “Payroll” which sounds a lot like late 80’s Ebb. There’s a lot of emotional power here on tracks like “I Am Undone” and the Martin-Gore-sings-backup-but-you’d never-notice song, “Once You Say” – all the ingredients that go into making a great Nitzer Ebb album are front and centre and in many ways it’s as if they never went away. But they did and what they developed while away is beautiful and we’re the better for it.

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