Record Review: Visage – Demons To Diamonds [part 3]

visage---demons-to-diamonds-bonus-A[continued from previous post]
The bonus CD-R included with copies of “Demons To Diamonds” featured three additional mixes. The Radio Edit of “Before You Win” was a tight edit of the fantastic leadoff track from the album. It basically lost the Morodereque sequenced middle eight buildup to the song’s extended coda. The song’s dramatic cold ending just came a lot sooner. In a better world, this edit would be issuing our of radios and radio-like devices everywhere. This song has, after a week of listening, burrowed its way deep into my mental iPod for hours of repeat listening.

Next came one more remix of the superb “Never Enough” with a generous helping of Philip Glass vs. Kraftwerk energy on the delightful intro. The Mororder bassline remained stalwart and there were additional interjections of pizzicato energy from the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, but no vocals on this instrumental remix. The rhythm track was gene-spliced from Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” and hearing that methodical machine impulse cheek-by-jowl with warm string sections makes me weep for delights such as “Europe Endless” that now seem so far from possibility with Kraftwerk, but thankfully not Visage! We were left with yet another parting shot revealing just how accomplished a song “Never Enough” was; with more than enough DNA to fuel a plethora of remixes. All good.

Finally, there was a final mix, this time from “Demons To Diamonds.” Orbital may be gone again, but they managed to remix “Star City” from the new album in a brief, wistful ambient instrumental mix. The shimmering ambient mix proved a graceful note to end our experience of the final Visage album on. After living with it for a week now, I’m impressed with how it was able to come together under what are the most difficult of circumstances to really gel into a coherent album that in some ways, follows in the footsteps of “Hearts + Knives” and in others, reflects the direction that the band may have been heading in before Steve Strange’s untimely death.

For a start, this album was ten songs, and 45 minutes in length; a bit longer than “Hearts + Knives” but none the worse for wear. The album flows by quickly and effectively. Like with the last one, there was no filler. The album kicked off with an “all guns blazing” track that immediately grabbed the listener [and really, is there any other way to begin an album now?] before going off onto other eclectic excursions. The last track on side one [or cut 5 on CD] was a portentous, methodically paced track with synthesizer percussion. The first track on side two [number 6 on CD] was an airy confection of delicate insouciance; miles away from the “classic” Visage sound, but sounding gorgeous in any case. The final track was a reflective meditation, straight from the heart of Steve Strange, with his long-term bassist Steve Barnacle, supplying fluid fretless bass. Both albums featured some material brought in from outside the band along with new songs. The pacing on both albums hewed to this format fairly closely, but then there were the differences.

For a start, the biggest change noticeable to these ears was the live band vibe coursing through this new work. In particular, the synthwork by Logan Sky reflected music that sounded more live than programmed. The previous album had synths and programming by Barnacle, with Logan Sky guesting [and playing in the live band lineup] but this time, there was a band in place from the start and Sky handled lead synths with only Sare Havlicek and Mick MacNeil reprising their support roles from the last album. This took the sound a bit closer to rock music than the traditional Visage rock-disco hybrid as it undoubtedly reflected a new phase of Visage that was tempered in live work for the first time ever in the last few years. This meant that if “Hearts + Knives” reflected a 1979 aesthetic in its sound, then the new album pointed to 1978 in comparison. Yes, it was that good.

My initial response to the album was that it was good, but not as electric as my first exposure to “Hearts + Knives” was two years ago, but after a week of listening, I’m hearing a more cohesive album. Possibly down to it being the result of half as many writers as the previous album [other than the two covers here]. While there could only one “Hearts + Knives” to blindside me and deliver so much after a 20 year layoff, “Demons To Diamonds” proffers a new program of material that did not sound at all like a cobbled together posthumous release.

The overall vibe was lighter and almost joyous in a way; making this last album very celebratory in vibe. As with the last album, Steve didn’t shy away from lyrics of sometimes dark introspection and honest self-reflection, but the live band sound kept it from getting too bogged down in shadows. The sound design from Logan Sky even managed to give me a hint of the Roland Romanelli’s “Connecting Flight” album that I have from ’82 with Rusty Egan [!] guesting. It’s just got that airy, vintage analog sound through and through. And with Romanelli cohort Didier Marouani figuring here, maybe that’s intentional. [memo to self: remaster that Romanelli album…] But that’s not to say that the rest of the band is slacking off. For the first time ever, there is a second album from a project that Robin Simon was a part of, playing his distinctive guitar and for that I am doubly grateful.

The last three years have seen Visage release three albums and a carload of excellent singles. As much as I was distressed by Steve’s sudden death last February, the band have served his memory well with this final Visage album. Listening to it is a total pleasure, and I think that with time, it will grow further in my esteem, as did the “Hearts + Knives” album. Back in 2013, I still ranked the first two Visage albums more highly, but that is no longer the case. The last phase of the band offered music that was informed by the late 70s roots of the band, but that was emotionally richer than anything that the band put down on tape back then. This was strictly down to Steve and what he brought to the band equation. In this way, the current Visage managed to reach the “classic, yet contemporary” target that every reformed band shoots for, but misses. And they did it twice. I’m really going to miss Visage, more than I ever would have thought even just five years earlier.

Click here for samples

Click here for samples

The US CD/LP [green, blue or grey vinyl] can be ordered from the Pylon Webstore here and the bonus CD-R edition reviewed [with UK CD or blue/green vinyl] can be ordered in the Visage Webstore.

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About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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12 Responses to Record Review: Visage – Demons To Diamonds [part 3]

  1. Gavin says:

    Wonderful words as ever Sir.I agree with you about the recent albums overtaking the earlier work in my estimation.I don’t think I have played any album in the last 20 years as much as “Hearts and Knives” and the new opus is already heading that way too.Logan Sky and Robin Simon in particular are a dream team and a really solid foil for Steve’s occasionally sensitive and emotional vocals in these final albums.It makes it all so much harder to take in,still after almost a year,that Steve has left us,but what a superb legacy and body of work he has left behind.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – The first two albums have technique and attitude… in spades. In particular, the first album had a go-for-the-throat vicious edge not heard elsewhere. The last two have a maturity not previously present in the band. The older, wiser Visage!

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  2. Steve’s sudden death and the tragedy of that is compounded by the likelihood that this dream team, now honed to near-perfection, will likely fall apart. Much as I would like some of Steve’s friends to help keep the unit together musically, there’s too much risk of making something lesser than what Steve accomplished with these two albums, and Visage should probably be laid to rest with this (short of the inevitable future remasterings/remixes/oh look what we found stuff). A great pity, as I’d go listen to a Visage tribute band these days than I would go see the actual band Ultravox after those last two completely awful albums!*

    *but speaking of which … John Foxx stepping in to work with the Visage lineup … impossible I know, but … oooooh!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – John Foxx working with Visage… If it was a snake it would have bit me!! I’d pay anything to get John and Robin Simon back together! Speaking of which, what ever happened to the team up album the two of them were mooting a few years back? Were the sessions ever in the can or did Robin’s joining Visage put that hot notion on the back burner? But seriously, how about some John Foxx + The Maths remixes of a track or two from “Demons To Diamonds?” We can’t let OMD and Simple Minds have all of the fun! And you did know that Steve Barnacle was working with Steve on some solo material, right? Expect that to maybe trickle out in ’16.

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  3. Echorich says:

    I don’t have anything to add Monk. If you had to keyword Demons To Diamonds they would include: gorgeous, surprising, mature, emotional, positive, intense. It’s an album with much more direction and flow than I could have ever imagined. Steve’s supernova shines brightly on this final collection of career fulfilling work.

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  4. Gavin says:

    News just in!
    Album of remixes/extended versions out now!!
    Hear clips here:

    My grey vinyl of D2D arrived today and its gorgeous.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – Sacre Coeur!! This is excellent news for those of us pining for more Visage goodness of the extended kind! I know where my discretionary budget is going next week. And don’t you just love the name of the “Become” remix?

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  5. Gavin says:

    …and the best thing is,they are all done by Visage themselves,not some nobody “DJ” and they sound great!

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  6. Gavin says:

    My pleasure-I just happened to open my Soundcloud account just minutes after they were posted.Amazon UK is expecting the CD in mid January.I ordered it direct from the Visage shop as they have always been really efficient.

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