The reason why I am the Post-Punk Monk is that, as I mentioned on the recent Billy MacKenzie thread, was that even when Post-Punk was all around me, and I was there trying to gulp it all down, you can’t know about everything! Fortunately, the Minimal Synth trend of the last 10-15 years has seen all sorts of music that never got its head above water, back in the day, finding new receptive ears by a whole tribe of people that have adopted an ethos similar to mine. Looking back to the forgotten nuggets from the past. Indie labels have popped up like mushrooms to unearth records just like the one we’ll discuss today that was largely not possible 40 years ago since they were [barely] released until the relative present!
Anna Logue Records out of Germany is one such label. Poeme Electronique came together in 1980 as a quartet making technopop of the day with Sharon Abbbott and Julie Ruler on lead and backing vocals with Dave Hewson on synths and production with brother Les on bass. If you have never heard of them either, there’s probably a good reason for that. The band and only managed to get a solitary 7″ out into the wilds in the 1982 period; “The Echoes Fade” b/w “Voices.”
The single was far below any radar of mine at the time so this endeavor was a valuable one for my ears! Especially when one looks at the utterly charming equipment list in the CD insert.
- Boss Dr. Rhythm DR-55
- Cosmo Sound Super Drum
- Elka Rhapsody G10
- EMS Synthi AKS
- Korg MS-20 [X2]
- Korg Polysix
- Korg Polyphonic Ensemble 1000
- Korg VC-10 Vocoder
- Linn Electronics LM-1
- Octave Kitten [? new to me]
- Roland RS-09
- Roland VP-330 Vocoder Plus
- Simmons SDS-V kit
- Yamaha CS-80
Why is it that albums that list the gear like this are always highly enjoyable? It must point to the techno-geekdom of the musicians synching with my own leanings! I suppose I am predisposed to enjoy such offerings! With the band’s name taken from Edgard Varèse‘s 1958 electronic composition for the World’s Fair they were already pointing in an avant-garde direction. Would it deliver to expectations?
Poeme Electronique: The Echo Fades – GER – CD 
- My Complicated Personality
- It’s In The Atmosphere
- Inside His Head
- She’s An Image
- This Night
- A Mourner’s Lament
- Poisoned Race
- The Echoes Fade
Gnarly rhythm box with monosynth bass set the pace. It was immediately apparent that there was a considerable amount of musical moxie behind this project. It was clear that Dave Hewson brought musical heft to the game. And the soaring glorious choral vocals by the women took the song aloft even as the gritty rhythms stuck furtively to the shadows of the streets.
The next song was even better. “Follow” was the sort of motorik synthetic glory that we got far to little of back in the day. A lushly romantic example of Technopop grounded with Simmons drums and aiming for the stratosphere with Elka strings and euphoric choral patches. The gloriously dinky synth hook on the chorus put it on a shelf with the percussive hook on “Enola Gay.” Meanwhile the arpeggiatiors kicked in to make this sound as splendid as possible. This was already reminding me of White Door, and really supporting my notion that Dave Hewson was a Prog level talent happy to make glorious, compelling Pop music. Apparently at college he studied under the composer Richard Arnell at Trinity College Of Music. The godlike coda was surely what one should hear upon leaving this realm for the next.
It was also apparent that singer and co-writer Ms. Abbott was just as adamant in her desire to avoid cliché in the song’s lyrics. None of this music sported any pop music banality. The lyrics to “Theories” examined all of history for its thrust. All mixed in a sonic cocktail featuring crunchy vocoder and Simmons SDS drum. On this song, Ms. Abbott’s high stakes theatrical delivery suggested contemporary Toyah Wilcox dropped into an environment of shimmering analog Technopop. And the lyrics and vocals of “My Complicated Personality” pushed further in that direction.
The Toyah factor probably peaked on the long and very Proggy “It’s In the Atmosphere.” Which had an extended introduction of theatrical affects and synth atmospherics far from the Pop world. The way Ms. Abbott delivered the word “atmosphere” surely suggested copies of “The Blue Meaning” or “Anthem” in her record collection. I have never heard anyone hit so close to the Toyah target before.
“Fragile” came to the rescue by coming closer tot he sound that Mororder and Sparks had achieved on “No. 1 In Heaven” with the syndrum sound and a finely etched arrangement delighting our ears. Did I state that “In The Atmosphere” was the apex of Toyah emulation? Scratch that. “Inside His Head” played like nothing less than a lost track from “The Blue Meaning” if Toyah had decided to use only modular synths for that opus. It’s always interesting to hear music made with modular loops for rhythm.
So far this album was running the gamut of synthetic rhythm options with rhythm boxes, early drum machines, Simmons SDS, and even some live drums listed in the credits as played by John Mortimer. Truth be told, I can’t hear acoustic drums here. They must have been heavily treated. Conversely, the Linn usage here so avoided Linn ’81-’82 cliché that none of it was apparent.
The glorious “She’s An Image” played out like a lost Buggles track with an extra “x” chromosome. It’s not surprising that the band had their one single issued on the Carrere label, which was also home to The Buggles second album. This material was that good! In fact, I’m astonished that Dave Hewson was not snatched up by Trevor Horn to become part of his ZTT Theam. Anyone who has as many library music albums under his belt as Hewson does, was obviously a font of talent. And his mastery of studio tech was self evident.
Finely etched analog loops built up the edifice of “This Night” with a web of nervous energy over wooshing synths. The unique narrative lyrics were absolutely fascinating and always make me pay attention to them. The vibe of this rhythm-box led tune was reminding me strongly of Techno Twins…which made perfect sense. It seemed that I had heard Dave Hewson’s playing earlier…on the Techno Twins singles I have on UK compilation albums! [memo to self – think about working on that Techno Twins collection…]
The backing vocals immediately gave the appropriately titled “A Mourner’s Lament” a perfect setup. This song could only be a lamentation. Later in the song, Julie Ruler recited the spoken word middle eight for an interesting contrast. “Atoman” leaned on Theremin-like synth leads and modular loops for its atmosphere, which ended up sounding not a thousand miles away from a project like “The Human League’s “The Dignity of Labour,” albeit with a stronger dose of musicality.
The one pre-released song here closed out the disc with an enchanting blend of Elka strings, rhythm box and a touch of bass with synth glissandos swooping through the song. The dignified vibe was eerily calm and collected as it attained a quiet majesty. It’s difficult to imagine that I never a song this full of grace and electronic poise until 40 years later. But better late than never. It you’ve not had the pleasure, then by all means hit that player below and hear what I am assuming was the 2010 7″ remix of the track, which was about a minute shorter than the CD version.
I came by this CD due to the generosity of one of the commenters here, who was entering their collection into Discogs and discovered duplicate purchases that led them to ask me if I would be interested in some of these doubles. I had said “yes” and later on, after receiving a few CDs, another package arrived without advance word containing several more CDs, including this little wonder. And I am stunned that this music by Poeme Electronique had not had a previous airing between 1982 and 2010, when Anna Logue Records facilitated this reissue.
For the record, Dave Hewson has gone back to the master tapes, which were recorded on 4 and 16-track at the time of issue and imported them into Pro Tools for some “retouching” to restore the tracks. Giving this album all of the digital quality of the now for its analog content. To the extent that some bits were even re-recorded. But the beauty is that it all reeks of its time with no jarring inserts or heavy-handed touches.
The sad fact of this review, a dozen years late, is that the pressing of 500 CDs and 500 LPs are long gone by now. I see two CDs in the aftermarket at affordable prices but the LP [which contains two more songs, including the “Voice” B-side to “The Echoes Fade” from 1982] will set you back three figures now. This was music that brought the compositional and arranging chops of of a learned musician into a Technopop setting that positioned Poeme Electronique as peers to bands as similar, yet disparate as Vangelis, White Door and The Buggles. High technique applied to glorious Pop music, and sung by two women who could match him with lyric and voice.