Record Review: John Foxx – Metamatic DLX RM [part 5]

Jonathan Barnbrook’s design makes excellent use of metallic inks and screened knockouts

[continued from last post]
The slow Rumba beat from the CR-78 underpins “Blurred Girl.” The Theremin-like lead lines return to evoke retrograde science fiction eeriness, but the warm synth leads stand in stark opposition to this to create dissonance. Foxx’s vocal here adopts the Dopppler shift paradigm used elsewhere on the synths as he distorts his phrasing to create the sensation of sweeping movement. Elsewhere his backing vocals were treated to suggest he was far away in a different acoustic space as he sang paradoxically of “Standing so close…never quite touching” to emphasize the remote emotional distance that was the foundation for the whole album. This was an album of impersonal environments populated by a lone protagonist who was interested in keeping things that way.

The album returned to the reggae style [complete with real bass guitar] with the almost warm, upbeat skank of “030,” but any potential warmth was sorely denied with his most distant, clinical, and unemotional vocal yet to date. What other sound would have an opening lyric such as:

“Male caucasion…
Pattern scarring…
Domestic gestures just like mine” – “030”

It’s a lyric that reads like a particularly dispassionate police report after finding a dead body. Foxx was going out of his way to make sure what was already stereotyped as a cold brand of music push out as far towards the margins of cold as possible. Give him a ring modulator for his vocal, and you’d have a Dalek® singing. But there were other distancing tricks up Foxx’ sleeve that he had not tried yet.

“Tidal Wave” was distinguished by a squelching bass synth that might have been a harbinger of some of the trappings of acid house, but the beats here were slow and deliberate, in contrast. The Theremin leads were used again but the distancing approach for his vocals here was to simply sing the material deliberately flat. The anxiety that it provoked in hearing is was considerable.

Following a trio of slowly paced songs that deliberately pushed Brechtian distancing effect as far as he could in a number of ways, Foxx concluded the album with one of the oldest [and therefore, most conventional] songs he had written for the sessions even while still in Ultravox. “Touch + Go” was one of the three fast paced songs here that resembled pop more strongly.

It was metronomic, precise reggae; an utter paradox. The album’s sonic building blocks of CR-78, Arp Odyssey, and Elka synthetic strings seemed to have been abetted here with some clavinet. The lyric here was more expansive and sprawling, owing to its age. Having written it as an Ultravox song, meant that the “emotional space probe” style of “030” was still yet to come. The lyric here was sprawling and practically Dylanesque, but the essential core of the lyric still concerned itself with emotional distance and deliberate isolation. No permanent bonds, just brief encounters and withdrawal.

Next: …Bonus Level One


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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3 Responses to Record Review: John Foxx – Metamatic DLX RM [part 5]

  1. Echorich says:

    The percolating beauty of the synths on Blurred Girl sets the song apart on Metamatic. The distance from the music that Foxx’s vocals occupy is brilliant. It’s Foxx’s take on Post Punk tropes.
    Tidal Wave has always reminded me of Ken Lockie’s Cowboys International. Lockie was a kindred spirit in the realm of trying to push Pop sonic boundaries.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – “Tidal Wave” and “Cowboys International?” I consider “Tidal Wave” one of the bleakest tracks I’ve ever heard; right up there with “The Messerschmitt Twins.” Hmmm. Don’t know about that, I’d have to give CI another listen, but Lockie’s vibe is vastly more warm and approachable; even playful to these ears. Speaking of Lockie, I wonder if we’ll see him in the Simple Minds audience? He lives in Alpharetta and runs his label, Pneuma Recordings, from there. Looks like a lot of house/techno material apart from the Cowboys International reissues.


      • Echorich says:

        Yes, Lockie is very much working in the House/Techno space.
        As for Tidal Wave, I don’t hear it as a bleak song. Maybe it’s the percolating rhythm pattern that always brings me back to a Euro-Disco space which M(emorie) by CI also inhabits.
        I will agree with you that Lockie’s Cowboys International is more ‘sentient’ than Foxx on Metamatic, but they both explore some similar lyrical ground.
        The other thing that ties Lockie to Foxx for me is that they both seem to have taken a good deal of inspiration from Bowie’s Low – an album that in an electronic space manages to be both Pop and Art.


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