Like a jump cut in a film...we're back to the present. John Foxx has been incredibly prolific since 1997. Before then he'd actually become 'the quiet man' figure that appears throughout his early work. The collaboration with Mancunian Louis Gordon seems to have brought him out of the shadows and their 10 year working partnership was capped in 2006 with the release of two albums, From Trash and Sideways. When you listen to the two albums together it's really astonishing that they came out of the same sessions.
John Foxx & Louis Gordon
Released 6th November 2006
It's as hard as nails, this. Where Sideways is a nostalgia driven synth-pop paradise, this is Foxx and Gordon in purer form, full of 'you and whose army?' attitude. The trance-y opening title track declares 'they will always come from trash' as Foxx describes working class revolution through pulp sub-cultures. The beats are meaty and pump away over ragged synth riffs whilst you can imagine an army marching towards you. Freeze Frame is a funky electro-brutalist ditty that raises the fear of ultimate identity theft through a web of static and big squashy synth swoops.
Your Kisses Burn, a weird psycho-sexual cinematic cry for help via Iggy's Nightclubbing finds Foxx on very good form vocally. The album goes rather electro-pastoral with the enchanting Another You, a lovely song about escaping your roots by becoming another person. It's a classic piece of Foxx synth pop with a memorable chorus and a Kraftwerk minimalism in its construction. Tumbling drum patterns herald one of the album's stand out pieces, Impossible. Foxx intones about reaching out for impossible dreams and his Moby like cries scream over a drum, guitar and synth background that sounds like that wonderful Australian band, Severed Heads. It's quite superb and has a big, panoramic, wide-screen feel to it.
...a classic piece of Foxx synth pop with a memorable chorus and a Kraftwerk minimalism in its construction.Boomp3.com
Thanks to Louis for rescuing Never Let Me Go. The simplicity of this, in a very Laurie Anderson Big Science manner, is sweet and a sensitive counter to all the blood and thunder of the previous track. It's short but heartfelt. For me the best thing on the album is A Room As Big As A City. It's about the vast power of imagination even if you're confined to one room in the chaos of an all devouring city. An electro-mantra for our times, Foxx whispering into your ear about the possibilities of dreaming, a keyboard riff that emerges echoing Kraftwerk's Neon Lights and sweeps that remind me of Endlessly ...this is one of the best songs he's ever done. Brilliant. (Catch the extended version on Sideways)
What sounds like the opening to the Casualty theme doesn't prepare you for the audio assault of A Million Cars with Foxx in wonderfully crooning mode over a heavy, hard drum and rhythm track and stinging synth washes. Definitely a major track on the album, its Panavision Technicolour imagery conjures up streams of vehicles shooting through vast cityscapes late at night. Gorgeous. Foxx gets funky again with Friendly Fire, with his love of Iggy Pop clearly showing in the swaggering drum track and pumping synths, as he examines media spin and conspiracy. The album closes with a further examination of changing identities in The One Who Walks Through You. A shuffling drum track, squealing synths and the killer chorus echo Systems Of Romance.
Certainly the strongest of the Foxx-Gordon collaborations, it contains at least three or four very outstanding songs and a consistent atmosphere and progression with loads of references to pulp SF tropes, including contemporary fears about rampant technology and the loss of individualism. Highly recommended.
John Foxx & Louis Gordon
Released 3rd April, 2007
This is a 2 CD set with the second disc given over to an in depth interview with Foxx about the From Trash sessions. Let's deal with the interview first as it's relevant to the review of From Trash. He's interviewed again by journalist and manager Steve Malins and Foxx first explains that the From Trash album is rooted in both his and Louis' Northern working class backgrounds and how they both negotiated their way through their careers. But it's also about Northern attitude and curiously Malins picks up on a sort of Liam Gallagher approach in the way Foxx and Gordon articulate their position as Northerners working in the industry. It's reflected in the music too.
Films like The H Man, Robot Monster and Planet Of The Apes seem to be indelibly printed on Foxx's brain...Foxx goes on to talk about 'trash' elements like B movies, science fiction, comic books and synthesisers. I really empathise with Foxx's comments about people dismissing his favourite things as 'rubbish' when he dearly loves them and with his observations about going to the cinema as a child. Films like The H Man, Robot Monster and Planet Of The Apes seem to be indelibly printed on Foxx's brain much as Doctor Who is probably burnt into my own. This is a whole area that I didn't know Foxx was into and listening to him felt like meeting a kindred spirit.
Influences such as Sunset Boulevard, film noir and Technicolour are touched on and Foxx also comments on the inspiration for the song Impossible where it articulates the adult imposition over childish ambitions and dreams. He sees life as something that needs the dimension of dreams and fantasy for it to keep evolving. Another You also touches on the feeling of being trapped in the past, marooned in re-evolving confrontational sub-cultures and reinventing yourself to manage the challenge. He name checks Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music as an inspiration for using trash aesthetics to move on from the redundant late 1960s. The conversation moves onto urban living. Cities as new entities, including rain composed of human sweat, he sees as just another possibility amongst many in a series of interconnecting maps that we can choose from. This is reflected in the songs A Room As Big As A City and A Million Cars.
The discussion closes with some observations about personality changes and fractured identities and the B movie ideas of possession.Malins also mentions Foxx's intention to junk the track Never Let Me Go and Gordon rescuing it for the album and how it feels very similar to Laurie Anderson in its simplicity. Friendly Fire is his comment on the nastiness of political jargon and spin doctoring but also a wider human fallibility where help is often a hindrance. The discussion closes with some observations about personality changes and fractured identities and the B movie ideas of possession. Freeze Frame seemed to prompt ideas about news gathering and surveillance footage as well as obscured narratives. He notes the use of improvisational singing for the album to give the vocals that 'frayed at the edges' quality and the need to be imperfect in the three week production of the music. Malins discusses the tracks that never made it to From Trash, particularly Neuro Video, which eventually arrived on the Sideways album. This last section delves into the whole production period for the album and provides fascinating insight to their working methods. Foxx is very relaxed and erudite. I sat through the whole interview in one go.
Now, Sideways. Disc 1.
This opens with And The World Slides Sideways which suggests an alternate dimension created through rampant technology by way of Wendy Carlos meets The Beatles. Its washes of synth, tinkling percussion, crashing drum machines and Foxx's treated vocals are superb. Very atmospheric and suggests the album is going to take us on an electronic archaeological dig into futuristic nostalgia. If you loved Metamatic and Systems Of Romance, then welcome back.
Underwater....has guitars! Shock....horror. Pulsing bass synths and keening melody lines form the structure with Foxx's vocals, here sounding much more like the Foxx on those earlier albums, crooning about a submerged Ballardian world. This is followed by X-Ray Vision, which is quite frankly an instant Foxx classic, all sweeping, dare I say it, Numan-esque synth riffs and then a fantastic vocal that's thrillingly psychedelic. It's like The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, that old Ray Milland Roger Corman B movie, as scored by George Harrison and Gary Numan.
Car Crash Flashback does, forgive the pun, a bit of a left turn, and it's like Yello and Kraftwerk had a baby. Punchy rhythms and snaky synth riffs, vari-speed vocals so totally old skool it's gone through a time warp to meet itself in the future. Again, it's Foxx dabbling with the Ballardian obsession of the human merging with the machine. In A Silent Way is meaty drum beats, lovely synth riffs, sing-song melodies and is a trip back to Systems Of Romance. Did he time travel back to Conny Plank's Cologne studio and bring this back for us? An outstanding nostalgia fest, a sort of reconfigured I Can't Stay Long for us old reprobates, and with a contemporary twist that'll keep the ravers happy. Stunning psychedeli-synth (oh, is that a new word...) pop genius.
Did he time travel back to Conny Plank's Cologne studio and bring this back for us?Boomp3.com
I'm still of the opinion that Sailing On Sunshine is the weakest track here. For me, it's...a bit too 'up' and brings back scary moments from In Mysterious Ways. It's a competent enough bit of surrealist pop but not my favourite. Great ending though with the crashing drums and synth riffs and floating backing vocals. A grower, I think. The synth-gasms keep on going with Use My Voice, another retro, psychedelia infused seranade. Foxx's voice is in fine form as he describes 'mapping the city, mapping the sky' and confirms 'we're losing the streets'. He's calling out to a landscape of the past that he knows urban expansion has already engulfed. Great stuff.
What sounds like Tubular Bells having sex with Giorgio Moroder via David Cronenberg's Existenz assaults your brain on Neuro Video. Foxx's techno obsessions, both musically and thematically, get a thrashing rhythm track, bubbling synthesisers and booming, treated voices intoning 'direct transmission'. 'Who did we kiss?' indeed. The album concludes with a superb little instrumental Phone Tap - moody and evocative. Like something off the flip-side of Bowie's Low album. There are also two bonus tracks - extended versions of A Room As Big As A City and Impossible - see the From Trash review for a view on those.
Phew. More like this please, John and Louis.
Live photos of John and Louis courtesy of Mark Smith.
John Foxx's MySpace page: Foxxmetamatic
Websites: www.metamatic.com Quiet City
Cathode Ray Tube John Foxx Louis Gordon From Trash Sideways