Record Review: Information Society – Looking Better In The Rearview Mirror

The hitmaking lineup of InSoc

I first encountered Information Society with their indie single “Running” came out on 12″  while I was still in college.  I remember it getting ink in the Billboard dance music column by Brian Chin that I read every week while I was in college and those costly issues of Billboard were there for the reading. Since I was not in clubs in this period [I know, my loss, eh?] I never heard the track. Years passed and Information Society managed to get two singles from their major label debut album into the US top 10. Both singles, “What’s On Your Mind [Pure Energy]” and “Walking Away” were in the by-that-point well established Freestyle genre. At the time, I could not be bothered by Information Society. I had sort of liked Shannon’s “Let The Music Play,” the 800 lb. gorilla of Freestyle, in its time, but not enough to actually buy it.

<insert 18 year gap…>

It remained until 2006, when I bought the Cleopatra Records Madonna tribute album [?!!] “Virgin Voices” when I was making my first Heaven 17 BSOG attempt. At the time they were signed to Cleopatra in The States, who had released their excellent “Bigger Than America” album here [albeit with a very different cover]. The label liked to indulge in the scourge of the 90s…plentiful “tribute albums” during this period, with its acts all getting the prod to contribute. Heaven 17 turned in a thoroughly bloodless run-through of “Holiday” that did nothing for me. Fortunately, some of the others tracks were actually appealing to me. Not the least of which was Information Society’s stab at “Express Yourself.” It was not a million miles away from the template that had created “What’s On Your Mind” but nearly 20 years later, it sounded very appealing to me for the first time ever. I next used my LaLa account [r.i.p.] to obtain a copy of the “Information Society” CD and found it to be a mixed bag.

Tommy Boy | US | CD | 1988 | 9 25691-2

Information Society: Information Society US CD [1988]

  1. What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)
  2. Tomorrow
  3. Lay All Your Love On Me
  4. Repetition
  5. Walking Away
  6. Over The Sea
  7. Attitude
  8. Something In The Air
  9. Running
  10. Make It Funky

The US number two Freestyle hit used geeky Leonard Nimoy Mr. Spock samples on the parenthetical title hook as the band had a mild penchant for sampled sound bites used sparingly. For the most part, the sound was a mixture of Synthpop, Electro, and Freestyle; which isn’t much of a stylistic stretch. The band were indebted to early Electro like the sort that Arthur Baker made his name with for Streetwise Records. The Feestyle ethos meant that the rhythms were all full of Latin syncopation, yet executed on synths and drum machines. The ghost of New Order in their imperial period hovered over this album at its best. This track was perhaps a tougher example of Freestyle than one could have found on the contemporaneous charts by Exposé or Company B. I’ll put that down to the fact that unlike those other two  “bands,” Information Society were not singers fronting a production team. They were actually driving the bus.

I sort of preferred the pure pop of “Tomorrow,’ which was less club oriented. Vocalist Kurt Harland sang the song with a clean, clear voice; albeit one with little character. Harland was called Kurt Velaquen, at this point in time – I had to look that up to figure out what was going on and it’s apparently a Tolkien reference – he comes by his geek cred very honestly between this and the Star Trek samples littered throughout the album. I appreciated the great backing harmonies from Amanda Kramer here. This was the only song on the album where she shared writing credits as well. The songs were mostly down to B-boy Paul Robb or arch geek Harland.

The cover of ABBA®s “Lay All your Love On Me” might have been the spark for Erasure to do another Synthpop cover a few years later on their hit “ABBA®-esque” EP, but I can’t say that Erasure moved the goal very far from what was in evidence here. Aside from it not being among my fave rave ABBA® tracks, the big weakness here was the dreaded manipulated vocal sample in the middle eight that sounded like a duck quacking.  Not inspiring. Since there was no video for this, I only knew that it had been a single just right now, when researching their discography.

The next track, “Repetition” was even worse. This was a sappy Paul Robb ballad and as a club guy, he should have known better. Harland turned on the smarm as he crooned the tune even more smoothly than his normally fiber-free vocals. The dreaded Yamaha DX-7 Soporific Electric Piano® reared its ugly head here to make me dive for the >>| button every time. Like the ABBA® cover, this was also a single, albeit with an extended B-side remix instead of the resolutely unfunky A-side.

After this snoozer, the even more pure Freestyle workout of the follow up number 9 hit “Walking Away” served to make it sound better than it might have actually been. This one hit the Freestyle target dead on with the digital synth horns giving it a Latin flair beyond the syncopated rhythms. That said, I feel that Pet Shop Boys had done a better cop of this sound with their “Domino Dancing” single around the same time.

“Over the Sea” was a catchy synthpop number from the pen of Harland. It moved away from the Freestyle tropes to reflect a bit of the New Order Electro sound. One of the things I appreciated about this song was how it ended exactly when I felt it should be winding down. It literally began fading when I thought to myself “I think that’s been enough!” There’s something to be said for not wearing out one’s welcome. The following “Something In the Air” was a different kettle of fish entirely. The Paul Robb song was cut from exactly the same cloth as a cut from Duran Duran’s “Notorious” album. From the funky Nile Rogers rhythm guitar, to the Latin rhythms and especially the lyrics. The latter were as sexual as anything from the pen of LeBon, but I daresay that Double Duran would never break the mood by including samples of Mr. Spock in the middle of it!

The version of “Running” on the album saw Harland re-recording the lead vocal for the former single since earlier vocalist Murat Konar had left the band before this album had been recorded. This one dove deep into the Electro/Freestyle bucket with lots of hard funky edits that took this one to 12″ single length. I have to admit that it lost me by the halfway point. After a few minutes it all seemed so arbitrary. The concluding “Make It Funky” was recorded with “vocals” from an early Macintosh version of the famous Eliza program quoting James Brown most robotically with “make it funky” and “good god” being repeated for the briefly ironic 1:11 album coda.

This album bears a few listens here and there, but it suffered from a lot of mainstream influence. The choirboy vocals from Harland were a little too wan for me. The circa 1988 digital synths used were a thin as vermicelli, and the lack of power they brought to the tough dance songs were wanting. The soporific sappiness they brought to the ballad “Repetition” was downright fatal. For the most part, the album zigzagged between the same sort of NYC Electro that influenced New Order [particularly on the “Confusion” single but also the “Low Life” and “Brotherhood” albums] and later period Freestyle club pop that was the thinner, watered down essence of the earlier stuff that turned New Order’s heads. The lyrics were generally the typical relationship fodder of much pop music, and this was perhaps the biggest turnoff here.

“Information Society” was rarely truly compelling, yet usually not worth skipping through [except for “Repetition”]. This was the sort of album that was marginally better than what I gave it credit for 31 years ago, yet not capable of making me collect the band today. This made InSoc a rarity of the bands in my Record Cell. I’d estimate that 85% of my somewhat large collection comes down to about 150 bands. Bands I have a single album or two from are thin on the ground in my life. I keep some of them around to keep me from getting too set in my ways and to provide a little variety. That’s my relationship to this band in a nutshell. I would take another dip into the Information Society sea after this and the fact that I bothered showed how my take on this group had certainly moved the needle, however slightly, into the positive zone.

– 30 –

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19 Responses to Record Review: Information Society – Looking Better In The Rearview Mirror

  1. dhrichards says:

    Past their debut, seek out their (second?) album with “A Knife, A Fork, A Bottle and a Cork” on it- one of the best songs, ever, imho. Later they also did a great song about IBM?
    I came to them as “the next Thompson Twins” and stayed for their accessible pop-club cross. Def. a band to enjoy single by single, but album by album may be a bit much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      dhrichards – I’ve only ever heard Escort’s [excellent] cover of “Cocaine In My Brain” and have never heard the Dillinger original or the InSoc cover on “Hack.” If we are talking about the same song. The “Hack” album credits that title to Paul Robb, but we know better. The next Thompson Twins? I can’t say I ever needed that, but I sort of get what you’re saying. Harland is a similar vocalist to Tom Bailey [I feel Bailey had more character]. If I had to put a fine point on it, this band sounded to me like the next Kon-Kan. Which was why it was easy to ignore them for so long.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jon Chaisson says:

    I found this record to be good silly fun that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I did love their next album (Hack, which has the brilliant single “Think”), though it is a bit overlong with a few half-baked filler tracks. “A Knife and a Fork” is indeed a stellar deep cut, though… that was Paul Robb’s doing if I’m not mistaken.


  3. tim says:

    You could not find a copy of What’s on your Mind (Pure Energy) where I lived when it came out, the stores sold it as fast as they could restock it.

    The best Madge cover – EVER – is Marc Almond’s take on Like A Prayer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      tim – I was surprised to see it got to number two at the time. Do you know what was number one? I am VERY partial to KMFDM’s “Material Girl” on the “Virgin Voices” album! I’ve not heard the Almond cut, or indeed, much Almond at all past 1992, sadly.


      • Tim says:

        I thought that you had the NME Ruby Trax compilation, I coulda sworn I’ve seen you reference it from time to time here. The Marc Almond track is on that. It is a delightfully over the top take on the song with a brass band and why it’s never shown up outside of that compilation boggles me. I don’t think it’s a licensing issue as I’ve see other tracks from that show up in multiple places.
        He also does a fantastic take on the Rolling Stones “Paint It Black” on a MOJO cover cd that I have. Could be an Uncut cover cd… of the two.

        re INSOC, the only 12” single that I’ve ever seen that was as hard to find (or harder) concurrent to the original release was the Engima Sadness single. I think the only reason I ever bought the INSOC one was that it was in such demand and so scarce that I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – Wow! Your tales of 12″ singles selling out locally are foreign to me and my experiences buying records. Of course, imports would be limited items, but even then, we had no problems getting what we wanted back then. The worst case was when me and my friends would want the same records! Sometimes, only one of us would get it if they got there first! But domestic stuff always seemed plentiful. of course, we were not buying things that were mainstream popular.

          I may have referenced “Ruby Trax” but never bought a copy. At the price its going for now [similar to new cost] it’s not going to happen any time soon.


          • Tim says:

            Ruby Trax is such a mixed bag. On the 3 cds for every track that you skip and think to yourself “nope, never listening to THAT again” there’s another one that’s gobsmacking awesome.


  4. negative1ne says:

    hey mr monk, now that you brought it up.
    just a few weeks ago, i ordered the japanese
    version of the compilation (volume 1), because
    it had he extended version of holiday from heaven
    17 (and i’m a completist). Guess the song did
    more for me, and its the only place to find it.
    Got it for $10, and $5 shipping off discogs.
    somewhere down the road, you should,
    if you haven’t already, check out:
    blue mercedes (UK) an abc clone
    boxcar (Australian) new order clone
    who also came out in the late 80’s to
    fill some of those gaps in musical styles.



    • postpunkmonk says:

      negative1ne – Well darn it, I’m also a completist and I had no idea this was the case. It’ll go into the bin of two dozen or so mixes still outside of my collection. I learn something new all the time.


  5. Tom Sarris says:

    A former colleague and still a friend, Murat Konar, was a member of Information Society for a time. I was not into them during their heyday, but certainly knew who they were, so it was pretty cool to meet and work with a one-time band member a few years down the road! Check out this video of Murat singing Running at a reunion show in SF: A little off key, but still…


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tom Sarris – That is fascinating! But I guess original lead singers for pop bands can pop up anywhere so why not in your work culture? I once worked with Blondie’s stage manager.


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