Record Review: John Foxx + The Maths – The Shape Of Things [disc 2]

Today it’s time to take a look at the bonus disc that accompanies the limited edition of “The Shape of Things” by John Foxx + The Maths. It’s largely comprised of tracks of material from the preceding “Interplay” album given a coat of remix paint. Unlike a generation ago, it seems like the sonic remix abuse that drove me away from synthetic, dance oriented music in the 90s has receded from earshot. These mixes are clearly not made for an audience tripping out of their skull in a field or warehouse.

“Evergreen” is the only cut that shows up twice. The first time it’s in a succinct radio edit that shortens the song honorably.

Evergreen - radio mix

Of more interest is the Xeno + Oaklander mix that begins with a “Blue Monday” rhythmic intensity before pulling in some random waveforms that have me going all the way back to my favorite track from the 1st period Depeche Mode album, the B-side “Shout.” Foxx has lately tipped Xeno + Oaklander’s “Sets + Lights” album as his favorite of last year.

I’d mentioned that “Shatterproof” had a thick whiff of vintage Cab Volt that pleased me to no end, so when Stephen Mallinder [with Wrangler] were seen to be mixing the track last year, I had high hopes, to put it mildly. The left leaning Maths track has been fully reconfigured in CV space now! Mallinder is singing new lyrics based on the original tune and playing funked up flanged bass as well. The end result is the first contemporary thing my ears have heard that I’ll call Cabaret Voltaire in 20 years. The vocoder abuse is particularly nasty, but not groovy, or laid back. After his first singing in 20 years [!] with Billie Ray Martin on 2010’s Crackdown Project and now this, all I can say is welcome back from the halls of academia, Mr. Mallinder.

The next track is a unique treat. The Maths tapped Tara Busch to be the opening act for their initial leg of their “Interplay” tour of last year and Ms. Busch has been compared by Foxx to being a combination of “Karen Carpenter and Bob Moog.” Foxx and Benge co-wrote “Where You End And I Begin” with Ms. Busch and though the title is pure Foxx imagery, I would bet that the bulk of the lyrics were written by Tara. The result is an infectious track with Busch singing lead that’s driven by the elegant saunter of a CR78 rhythm box, harkening me back to 1980 and records like “Flesh + Blood” by Roxy Music or “Telekon” by Mr. Numan. Foxx only joins in with spectral whispers on the title phrase in the choruses. It’s a fantastic collaboration that stands a little apart from the music of either Maths album, making this disc a perfect repository for its singular qualities. Ms. Busch adds her patented classic Star Trek vocals on the coda/fade and once heard, this song sticks in the cortex like glue of the most appreciated kind.

The Belbury Poly remix of “Summerland” is next and it adds the Old World sound to the track with its melodica and gently loping eurofolk rhythms. By the time the track is ending, you could be excused for waiting to hear Martin Gore chime in with the chorus to “Everything Counts.”

The Tim “Love” Lee mix of “The Good Shadow” radically repaints the subtle benediction of the “Interplay” closing track. Acoustic guitar and a reggae-ish drop beat compete with added synth percussion to make this track the one most changed in remixing. It sort of reminds me of what it might have sounded like on Foxx’s 1985 album “In Mysterious Ways.”

I keep hearing Cabaret Voltaire influence in this remix disc, and the Grayed Out mix by Andy Gray of “Watching A Building On Fire” takes that track to mid-period Cab Volt glory with its hyperactive sixteenth note sequences harkening back to cuts like “White Car” from “Code.” The sound is periodically shot through with pneumatic squirts of foreboding synth chords. This is the one remix here that manages the neat trick of upstaging the original by The Maths. When I think of the song now, it’s this mix that springs to mind.

Watching A Building On Fire - Grayed Out mix

In contrast, the Grayed Out mix of “Interplay” piles on the filigree in a way that makes the spartan anguish of the original only seem stronger in comparison. The Numan-esque Polymoogs lend it a nice “Telekon” air but at the end of the day, you can’t improve the emotional impact of the song simply by adding more stuff.

Interplay - Grayed Out mix

These remixes on this bonus disc run the gamut from good to excellent with Andy Gray scoring the clear winner here as well as the closest thing to a loser. The bulk of these tracks are sufficiently different to be worthy of a spin for certain and the care and sensitivity with which they were made give the limited edition of “The Shape Of Things” a sense of urgency behind its hardbound release of 2000 copies. The inclusion of the exclusive track with Tara Busch makes it a mandatory purchase for the Foxx faithful.

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4 Responses to Record Review: John Foxx + The Maths – The Shape Of Things [disc 2]

  1. Echorich says:

    I have to agree with you on your assessment of the bonus disc. This disc on it’s own is an admirable collection of interpretations and reinterpretations that certainly has brought out the best in the remixers and remodelers.
    I thought it was interesting how Numan and Foxx have keep a mutual admiration society for these 30 odd yrs. But there is so much that they both have brought to electronic music and obviously had an influence on many of the remixers of today. Andy Gray is certainly a disciple of the era and treats these tracks with reverence and definite ear for the music which Foxx begat.
    My copy is on its way to me as I write!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I am in awe of John Foxx’s gentlemanly respect for Numan. Sure, Americans probably heard Numan first. I heard “Are Friends Electric” once when it came out on Atco in ’79 the single time it was played on my local “FM Rock” station. It was an “electric” moment for me. All of my friends and I thought “the new Bowie!” Not that there was anything wrong with Bowie at the time! Within a year I had the first four Numan albums. But in Sept. 1980 I chanced to hear Ultravox/John Foxx. In spite of really enjoying “Dance” in 1981, within two years the bloom was off the Numan rose. “Warriors” stuck a fork in it. I didn’t drift back to Numan until Ultravox came off the rails and Foxx retreated from the glare. Numan was just too derivative for me when I was into the “real thing.”

      When I got back into Numan, I think he was peaking with his first three Numa albums. They are persona-non-grata now in the Numan Reformation Era [post-NIN] but they are the albums where I think he found his voice after years of trying to be Bowie, Foxx, Japan. When I heard “Sacrifice” I thought it was his best work since “Strange Charm.” When I heard “Exile” I thought, “hmm… he’s really plowing that field.” When I heard “Pure” I thought, “I’m outta here.”

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      • Echorich says:

        I can wax fondly and admiringly about Gary Numan for hours… When I first discovered him around Replicas I was instantly awestruck! Yes Bowie, but this guy took it seriously. He was the man who refused to fall to earth…Replicas, Pleasure Principle and Telekon are unbelievably important in my musical development. It wasn’t until Pleasure Principle that I discovered Numans reverence for Foxx era Ultravox. I immediately became a John Foxx devotee when Numan pointed me in that direction. Foxx’s first three solo albums are also foundation albums for my love of electronic music. What both men were able to do with analog synths and pre midi patching of instruments was unique and quite genious.
        I too was thrown off by Dance, I, Assassin and Warriors. Numan’s need to reinvent was just a bit too all over the place at the time. Lookin back 30 yrs or so though, there are a lot of amazing tracks on those three albums…Bill Nelson, Mick Karn, Pino Palladino, Rob Dean all contributed to some brilliant tracks.
        When Numan came out of a brief retirement (read dropped by Beggars Banquet basically) he put a very strong foot forward with Berserker, The Fury and Strange Charm. I am so glad you hear the confidence and enthusiasm that those albums project. I flew to London twice during that era to see Numan mount multiple sold out nights at Hammersmith Odeon and The Dominion Theatre. British Numan fans were religious in their devotion in those days.
        After the failure of the IRS Records releases, which were great if not that groundbreaking or inventive, I think Numan decided to start taking stock. His output was beginning to get a bit harder and more metallic with Sacrifice and I think he decided to go for it once he gained that status of “major influence” on so many late 90’s bands. I really like the darkwave spirit of Sacrifice and the follow up Exile. There are some really startling lyrics, especially on Exile.
        I will give you that Pure is tough to listen to. I still don’t really feel he was attempting to -out NIN – NIN, but there is a kindred spirit in there. Finally 2006’s Jagged mostly suffered from being released 3 yrs too late. It redeems itself for the use of some very vintage synth effects on the vocals.
        2011 Dead Son Rising was a really pleasant surprise for me…it will probably end up on my Top 11 (which is still a top 22 at this writing) for the year.
        Yeah I can talk and talk on Gary Numan…

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Oh don’t think that I didn’t love “Dance.” It’s a desert island Numan disc for me. At the time I was thrilled by it and I’ve only loved it more over the years. More on Numan later. Much more.

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