Review: VNV Nation – Automatic

Two of our absolute favourite artists released new albums the same week, Ladytron and VNV Nation. As we wrote recently, the former fell short of expectations, even if there were some true shining moments. The latter is now upon us, has been played and played again until it reeks of familiarity and we can accurately sing along with the peppier tracks, and bizarrely, shockingly marks the second anticipated album that just doesn’t quite ring the bell.

Ronan Harris and co have slipped into a tidy, neat little niche where they can grind out their now-patented pop/post-EBM hybrid with seeming effortlessness. For three albums in a row they’ve arrived at a comfortable place and they don’t seem for budging. From Judgement to Of Faith, Power And Glory, the middle held, as it were. The big, sweaty, anthemic tracks with big themes, big sounds, big bass ruled the day, even on ballads and it just worked so well, they went from being a band we really dug, to, on many a day, our favourite band in the land. So why doesn’t it hold yet again on an album that in many respects could be Judgement III? No matter how well someone does something if there is no variety offered in said thing eventually it can’t help but fall in the trap of being, dare we say it, boring. And sadly much of Automatic feels just that. And that’s something we’ve never once said about any album released by VNV Nation.

There are dull instrumentals that don’t pack any of the punch of earlier work when the bulk of albums were instrumental, there are samey-same songs that blend together so much it’s hard to tell them apart. The “concept” that creates the tread meant to unite the album through a common thematic thread – to encompass “the industrialization and technology of late 30s America while embracing the technology of today.” – is cool and makes a lot of sense but doesn’t add as much to the proceedings as one might have hoped. It guts this blogger to say a negative word about this band, especially about an album that has clearly been such an exciting project for them, but it doesn’t rise to the heights they’ve scaled before it. It just doesn’t.

That said, there are moments that remind us why VNV Nation are so important to the world of electronic music. Why they have the ability to do this stuff as well as or better than anyone. “Space and Time” is a terrific stop/start grinder of a song; “Resolution” sounds like a anthemic track that would have held its own against anything on the previous two efforts, (and lest there be any misunderstanding, those efforts were as good as it gets in this genre); “Nova”, the absolute high point of the album, combines thoughtful lyrics with a rising melody that lifts the heart of the listener and produces some of the crispest, cleanest sounds the band has ever produced (and is a good example of how much Harris’ voice has grown to be a real asset as he gets stronger and more powerful vocally then ever). This band can produce brilliant electronic music in their sleep, we see evidence of it everywhere we look, but on this project they’ve fallen short. It’s not what this band is fully capable of, except in bursts, and that makes for a missed opportunity. It’s no failure so much a “what could have been”. It makes us no less excited about what comes next, we simply find ourselves in a holding pattern a little while longer.

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3 Responses to “Review: VNV Nation – Automatic”

  1. I’ve got the new album, but haven’t listened to it yet. I figured it’s kind of unnecessary, because it will sound just like the last album, which sounded just like the previous album. VNV Nation perfected their formula with “Future Perfect,” but have added no new ingredients since. They’ve become tiresome.

  2. A bit harsh? “Automatic” is not up there with “Of Faith, Power And Glory” (which I thought was their best album in a very long time), and it certainly is mostly more of the same, but it’s been growing on me lots since the first play. And Hi-NRG? They ain’t done that before!

  3. Just stumbled across your blog and have been catching up with some of your reviews. Strange, I think Automatic is a fantastic album. If anything I feel like he’s finally breaking out of the holding pattern on M+F, Judgement, and OFPG. Ronan seems to be accepting his evolution more, where OFPG had Verum Aternus, we get the wonderful Gratitude. Like you said, both Space & Time and Resolution are really fantastic. Where I agree with you are on the instrumentals, the opening track as well as Goodbye 20th Century just don’t do much for me. And yes, the album does have a familiar structure, but that’s kind of VNV Nation’s thing at this point, isn’t it? Anyways, I think this is their greatest album perhaps since Empires, and I’m eager to see where they go next.

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