[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.
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