Friday, June 26, 2009

500. Touch- A new wave tsunami of synthesised noise.

Album: Touch
Artist: Eurythmics
Year: 1983
Genre: New Wave, Electro.
1. Here comes the rain again.
2. Regrets
3. Right by your side
4. Cool blue.
5. Who’s that girl?
6. The first cut.
7. Aqua
8. No fear, no hate no broken hearts
9. Paint a rumour.

Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox were at the forefront of something called New Wave, which is a musical movement that nobody really understands. New Wave is the Postmodernism of the musical world, it’s a term everybody uses but nobody can really define. I have no New Wave in my musical collection so Touch was not just my introduction to the Eurhythmics but to the movement in general.

I have to say it’s not an album I responded to all that well. My problem isn’t with Annie Lennox, (who has a fantastic voice) or Dave Stewart (who is a skilled producer), it’s with the third member of the Eurythmics trio- the synthesizer.
With the exception of some great bass riffs (which sound like they came straight from the Seinfeld theme music) and a few strings, there are few real instruments on Touch. Most of the backing is made up of a series of bloops, bleeps, whirs, purrs and other artificially produced weirdness as supplied by a synthesizer. Touch isn’t just an album from 1983 it’s an album that is incredibly, unbelievably totally from 1983. It couldn’t come from any time other than that woeful year when for some reason the world tired of organic sounds and wanted music from other planets. It’s no coincidence that Scarface, the greatest movie ever to be cursed with an appalling soundtrack, came out in 83.

No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get past the Synth effects that are all over Touch. The album’s soundscape is made up of processed, electronica layered over that strange percussion noise that sounds like someone slapping a waterbed with a cricket bat (you’d know it if you heard it). Annie’s vocals get lost in amongst the vast sea of blooping sounds along with her own multi-tracked backing vocal interjections.

I started to really wonder about the album when a spaceship landed just after the two minute mark in the second track. One of those 1950’s sci fi space ships with the sleek, metal exterior and poorly concealed fishing wire descends with its instantly recognizable landing noise in the right-hand channel before dematerializing and then returning a bit later on for something it forgot. It doesn’t fit into the musical landscape around it, there’s no musical or lyrical cue; the sound just descends on the track like… well like an alien spacecraft. What I wondered then and wonder now is: how did they know when to time ET’s arrival? How do you decide when to make the spaceship sound effect? Years later when Stewart remastered Touch did he agree or disagree with his youthful decision? “Bugger, I totally ruined that track by bringing the spaceship in ten seconds too early”

The UFO returns for an extended landing at the start of the next track, presumably to drop off some percussion sounds from their home planet: “Here Dave, why not use these on your track, they sound like nothing on earth”.

While the three singles (Who's that girl, Right by your side and Here comes the rain again) are melodic pop tunes ruined by unnatural sounds the final track is really mystifying. Paint a Rumour lasts for seven minutes but listening to it feels like reliving the entire of 1983 all over again. It’s an eternity of repetitive vocals over the top of a mid-tempo beat augmented but what I swear is the sound of someone playing space invaders. I tried but I can’t get a handle on this sort of thing because I have no idea what I’m meant to do with it. What reaction are you supposed to have to 7 minutes of slow-paced electro? You can’t dance to it. You can’t sing along. There’s no way you can air guitar, bang your head or tap your toes. It’s not seductive unless you’re trying to woo a Commodore 64. You can’t appreciate the musical talents of the creators (unless you’re capable of recognising a well played game of space invaders based purely on the sound effects). I just don’t understand how I can relate to it.

So do I think Touch deserves its place in the top 500? Well not really. I suppose it’s there because it’s the seminal work in a particular genre. I just can’t get into the style of music it represents. It hasn’t converted me to synthpop but I suppose if I had to listen to a synthpop release it might as well be one fronted by an unarguably talented vocalist.

Highlight: The cover, it looks like Annie came in disguise to compete against herself in a nude arm-wrestling competition.
Lowlight: Following up a line about drowning and watching bubbles surface with lots of impressions of bubbles.
Influence by: Krautrock, electronica, pacman.
Influenced: Johnny two Hats and the rest of Kraftwerk Orange.
Favourite amazon customer review quote: “Regrets" is struggling between herky jerky electronics and soulful blandness, which keeps it an interesting battle”
-I agree with the herky jerky bit but I’m not sure what soulful blandness is and how it keeps a battle interesting.

So do you Rave about Dave or think Lennox is bollocks? Where you touched by Touch or do you hate beeping synthesizer music? Let me know below

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