Friday, May 31, 2013

Cabaret Voltaire: The Conversation

While such albums as Micro-Phonies, The Crackdown, and Red Mecca are usually the more acclaimed recordings from Cabaret Voltaire, YHB has always found the last album from the duo of Richard H. Kirk and Stephen Mallinder, 1994's The Conversation, to be a favorite.

Maybe this is partially because, after the debacle that was the short tenure with conglomerate EMI, CV was able to pick up the pieces and move back into an experimental stance while also going forward with a sound that looked ahead to what electronica was heading toward in the early 90s.

This was no small feat, given the Cabs were able to reinvent themselves at least three times during their lengthy career and to do so generally successfully (with the later EMI years being a notable exception.)  It does have to be noted, though, that Mallinder's involvement in the last three albums, under the duo's Plastex imprint, was considerably less than previously and The Conversation appears to be almost completely, if not entirely, Kirk's doing as there are no vocals from Mallinder, who last performed them a few albums back, though he may have had a hand in the pieces that was more subtle than previous contributions.

The double disc album is solid all the way through, from the bookmarked intro and outro of Exterminating Angel to the sharp grooves of Brutal But Clean to the smooth machine funk of Let's Start and the unusual The Message (An Original Hollywood Theme).

But, the centerpiece of this great album is the mind-blowing sound collage piece Project 80, which spans 53 minutes, but almost operates like a electronic concerto or symphony with several movements.  Washes of sound, often heavily treated with echo and other effects, sampled voices, and other sources are densely layered into a compelling mix that doesn't drag or peter out, but transforms into another "movement" and changes the dynamic of the piece.  It's hard to believe that it's been almost 20 years since this record comes out, but Project 80 never fails to impress and stands as an apt culmination to two decades of remarkable work from a truly remarkable group.

Richard Kirk's solo work really began to accelerate in the early 90s and Mallinder's move to Australia marked the end of CV or at least its suspension, though there were some unrealized plans for a 1998 return to recording and live performance. 

While Mallinder did some recording "down under" and continues to make music now in England after completing a PhD, using his music background as his field of research and writing, Kirk has made dozens of fascinating recordings under a slew of monikers, showing that he remains a highly productive and imaginative manipulator of sound.

There have been a couple of projects in which Kirk has resurrected the Cabaret Voltaire name on his own, these being remix albums for young groups, including Kora and The Tivoli, though it has been a few years since the last of these and there hasn't been any indication of new recordings utilizing the CV name.

In any case, The Conversation is an album that holds up as well to this listener as any in Cabaret Voltaire's extensive discography, even if not as well recognized as its early to mid-1980s "classics."

Cabaret Voltaire:  The Conversation (Plastex/Instinct, 1994)

Disc One:
1.  Exterminating Angel (Intro)  5:47
2.  Brutal But Clean  11:05
3.  The Message (An Original Hollywood Theme)  8:16
4.  Let's Start  8:11
5.  Night Rider  9:54
6.  I Think  8:56
7.  The Heat  7:52
8.  Harmonic Parallel  10:52

Disc Two:
1.  Project 80  53:05
2.  Exterminating Angel (Outro)  8:01

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