Sunday, February 28, 2010

Album Review: Mogwai – Happy Songs for Happy People

Typically ironic title for Mogwai’s 2003 album, though it finds them a lot cheerier than usual. The album is one of their more accessible albums, with relatively few noisy bits and shorter songs for the most part. Hunted by a Freak fades in with a wonderful guitar melody. Immediately upon putting this track on, your surroundings will get a little darker, the sun will go behind the clouds, and the lights will dim. Moses? I Amn’t? is more like a short atmospheric interlude, before next track, Kids Will Be Skeletons, which is a very gentle track. It’s reminiscent of the Cure, particularly Disintegration-era (ie it plods along pleasantly).

Killing All the Flies has a loping guitar figure, with brief noise burst in the middle, while vocal track Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep is almost zen-like in its calm pace. Ratts of the Capital is the requisite multi-layered epic at eight minutes long and features a great middle section of heavy guitars before they drop off towards the end of the track. Mogwai have an excellent grasp of dynamics, and this song is a prime example.

After the Sigur Ros like Golden Porsche, which features violins, and the electronica-tinged I Know You Are But What Am I?, the album concludes with Stop Coming To My House, a sort of so-so track featuring the violins, guitars, electronics and the kitchen sink.

All in all, it’s not a major departure for Mogwai but another album which takes its time to reveal itself, and rewards in equal measure when it does.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Album Review: Smog – The Doctor Came At Dawn

Smog’s 1996 album picks up from where previous album Wild Love left off. The cover is quite similar to Arab Strap’s debut, or is it the other way round? First track You Moved In is filled with foreboding strings and tinkling piano, along with carefully plucked guitar. Bill Callahan sounds less than thrilled at the prospect of the unidentified “you” moving in! Somewhere in the Night is more uptempo. At just over 2 minutes long is driven by a slightly off tune acoustic guitar and handclaps, and works as it only would for Smog.

Lize is a slower, well-constructed song based around a slowly picked electric guitar, as Callahan puns “they don’t make Lize (or lies) like they used to”. Then Spread Your Bloody Wings is darker, with a muddier, less clear melody, a bit more of an ambient piece.

After a short interlude, Everything You Touch Becomes A Crutch is faster before stalker centrepiece, All Your Women Things. It’s just short of seven minutes and is fairly epic, along similar lines to Red House Painters’ Medicine Bottle, both musically and lyrically. It’s the age old tale of love gone bad, Callahan painstakingly etches out every detail of all the aforementioned “women things” which used to be scattered round his room. The killer line is at the end, when we discover “it’s been 7 years and the thought of your name still makes me weak at the knees”.

A total departure for the following track, Whistling Teapot, which Bill Callahan sings in a totally different voice, stretching towards falsetto at times. Could almost be a different singer only for the fact that the track drips with loathing. Four Hearts In A Can echoes Lize in melody, but adds strings and is more wistful and yearning. It would have been a nice ending but this is Smog, so the final track, Hangman Blues is a suitably stark, barely-there song, filled with pauses.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Album Review: Robert Forster – Danger in the Past

This was Robert Forster’s first solo album. Released in 1990 after the dissolution of the Go-Betweens, it has a great picture of Robert on the cover. It kicks off with Baby Stones, which is a dead ringer for early REM, around Reckoning direction. The song is driven along nicely by jangly guitar and piano. Forster is a great songwriter, and good guitarist but is a bit of a non-singer, his voice is something of an acquired taste. It’s followed by the River People which is a kind of folky ballad, with down-by-the-river type imagery.

Leave Here Satisfied is more dramatic, with quieter verses before building up to a crescendo for the chorus before the music drops away again. It’s in a minor key, which gives it a different sound from both Baby Stones and most other Go-Betweens songs. There’s a great line on this one: “there was dust on the piano keys, dust on the backyard trees, dust on the doorlocks but not on me.”

After a couple of songs which to my ears are a little disappointing, things improve with the title track, which is a little doomier than what had gone before. It’s arranged like a Nick Cave ballad, with darkish sounding verses and then chorus which is little more than the song-title repeated a few times. But it works really well, as does second-last song I’ve Been Looking for Somebody. It’s the classic story of the guy who never thought he could find a woman but then surprises himself by doing just that.

Overall the album is a little patchy but at least half of it is great.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Album Review: American Music Club – United Kingdom

This 1989 album for me has always been overshadowed by its predecessor, California, and also by the fact that it has only 9 songs, of which 3 are live. I was never wild about the title of the album either so never gave this album the consideration it deserves. It’s devastating.

The opener, Here They Roll Down, is quite unusual, starting with a bed of ambient, traffic-like noise, before Mark Eitzel dislocated voice comes in, accompanied by electric guitar and an absence of percussion. Indeed there is very little percussion over the whole of this album. The track becomes darker towards the end as Eitzel sings “if your broken face can find a lover, give away your chance to fly, give away your will power”, before finally singing “hey look at me, I’m free” while sounding anything but happy about it, before a huge foreboding bass drum comes in.

Dreamers of the Dream follows, a more straightforward song structurally, in a vaguely country way, before the stripped-down acoustic Never Mind (pre-dated Nirvana!), which is a live recording, dominated by Eitzel’s voice. The title track features a recurring electric guitar motif which sounds like Duane Eddy on downers. The mood darkens in the bridge with the lines “When you held me in your arms, why didn’t you want me? When you held me in your arms, why didn’t you touch me?”

At this point 4 tracks into the album, I’m in a fairly fragile emotional state. The album becomes darker still with Dream Is Gone. Eitzel is at his wits end here, clinging on to fading hope for dear life, and the track would be best discussed by simply reprinting the entirety of the lyrics. Heaven of Your Hands, is a momentary respite, echoing Dreamers of the Dream, with a similar melody. This is a beautifully constructed song, featuring the band with a piano element added in, echoing Nick Drake's Northern Sky.

The darkness returns to envelope the listener completely with Kathleen. It’s a barely-there, sparse song, based on an offbeat guitar pattern and Eitzel singing to his muse, his ex-lover Kathleen Burns. It’s another live track, and really is pleading of the most plaintive type, and the somg climaxes with Eitzel bellowing “your love Kathleen is for someone I (then roars) SWEAR I COULD HAVE BEEN”.

Most American Music Club albums feature an absolute clunker, and this one is no different with the penultimate track, Hula Maiden. It’s a cheesy big country ballad, sung live, and all I’ll say is it’s not my cup of tea. The album then ends with a whimper, Animal Pen is another track featuring just a guitar and Eitzel’s voice, with a fairly unusual if insubstantial melody.

So there are only 9 songs here, and only 4 of them as far as I’m aware feature the full band. It’s a pretty heavy album, but one to embrace, place in your CD player and glue it shut. Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to find, though you might be lucky enough to find the version which features the California album also.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Album Review: Sonic Youth – Murray Street

This 2002 Sonic Youth album was a return to form as far as I was concerned. It’s very definitely a more mature Sonic Youth, perhaps due to the presence of Jim O’Rourke, who had joined the band for this album.

There are only seven songs on this album but the first 3 (all sung by Thurston Moore) are damn near perfect. Empty Page is probably the poppiest one here, which starts with a fairly unadorned clean-sounding guitar in the verses before leading into a slightly heavier chorus. The whole thing is quite concise and is over in just over four minutes. Although Sonic Youth were no slouches when it came to guitars before, they really excel themselves here. O’Rourke’s presence on bass frees up Kim Gordon to join Moore and Lee Ranaldo on guitar. Disconnection Notice is a slower, more complex track which unfolds slowly with a taut guitar line leading the track and the rest of the band joining in, driving the track on to a career high (and there are many for this band). What makes this track particularly enjoyable is that they threaten noise and feedback without delivering, which makes the track tense but thrilling.

Rain On Tin is like Television’s Marquee Moon updated for the 21st century. Guitars in the midsection of this song reach Verlaine-esque heights from about 02.40 on before returning to the structure of this song. The track is almost 8 minutes long but it doesn’t feel like it, thanks the superb musicianship displayed.

After this the album takes a bit of a dip. Karen Revisited, is a Ranaldo-sung track, which starts out fine, till we get to a tedious noise section in the middle, which is dragged out for the remainder of the 11 minute long track. Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style is a definite improvement, a bit more rockist with it’s Lou Reed references, before climaxing in a noise-fest at the end.

Kim Gordon gets to sing Plastic Sun, which is a typical Gordon shouty song, but she also gets to sing Sympathy for the Strawberry, a longer drawn out song, in a similar vein to last year’s Massage The History off The Eternal. For the first 3 songs alone, it’s worth checking out.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Album Review: Mogwai – Rock Action

This is probably one of Mogwai’s more accessible albums, as it’s less noisy and heavy than their previous albums. Released in 2001, it begins with the slightly scratchy Sine Wave before going into the epic Take Me Somewhere Nice. This song incorporates keyboards into Mogwai’s bass-heavy sound. It features vocals by David Pajo (Slint/Papa M) which work well with some beautiful music played by Stuart Braithwaite and co. I can almost feel the snow fall.

After the short interlude, O I Sleep we get another brooding song, Dial: Revenge which hangs on a simple sounding acoustic guitar figure before the keyboards come in. It features vocals sung in Welsh by Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals. You Don’t Know Jesus runs to 8 minutes and is more abrasive sounding. The band, who are pretty restrained elsewhere on this album, let loose with heavy guitars and crashing cymbals. Two Rights Make One Wrong is the longest song here at nine and a half minutes, starting out with jangly guitar but building up with guitars, strident drums, keyboards, electronics, wordless vocals before finishing off with banjo. It shouldn’t work but surprisingly it does. The final track Secret Pint is a little anti-climactic, a sparser, piano-led track with more gentle vocals.

A good entry point for checking out this band’s guitar-effect heavy post-rock.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Album Review: Arab Strap – The Week Never Starts Round Here

Arab Strap’s debut album, released in 1996 was my first introduction to this Scottish band. They were like nothing I ever heard before, a dour Scot (Aidan Moffat) muttering over dark, brooding pop (based around Malcolm Middleton’s guitar). Many of the tracks are similar, with barely intelligible music over moody backing. They tend to write about relationships in a very real, visceral way, pulling few punches with some vulgar lyrics and imagery drawn from the gutter.

This album is quite Smog influenced, with vocals spoken rather than sung for the most part. Instrumentation is for the most part sparse, you can hear the scraping of fingers against guitar strings, and rather than lo-fi, barely ‘fi’ at all! The album artwork is equally ramshackle.

The Clearing features crashing drums and a few killer lines (“the things that used to turn me off, I find endearing”). Much of the album is hilarious, intentionally or otherwise. Case in point, I Work in a Saloon – “pulling s**t pints for s**t wages”. And there are a few segments with singer Moffat quietly singing a cappella, which are borderline dreadful really. He sounds drunk here, and possibly was for many of these tracks. Especially General Plea To A Girlfriend, where he sings loudly over a basic drum beat, lines like “I can’t make boasts about my body, the workmanship is somewhat shoddy” before lapsing into whistling.

The most memorable track here is The First Big Weekend, which does what the title suggests, describing a drunken weekend based around Scotland losing to old enemy England in football. The music reflects the storytelling in the song, as the evening gets livelier, so does the music. The vocals over the album sit somewhere between bitter, cynical and plain old drunk. A prime example of this is penultimate track, Blood. The lyrics are pretty close to the bone, about the horrors of intercourse and infidelity. I won’t repeat the lyrics here, but you get the idea.

This is real Britpop. No pointless posturing, this is music with real heart and balls. It’s music for sitting in a pub on a dark rainy night.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Album Review: Morrissey – Southpaw Grammar

This review relates to the original pressing of Morrissey’s 1995 album. The album was re-released with additional tracks and with the order changed around. I don’t approve of this, I don’t like messing with the past. This album was not received particularly well by the critics or the fans, though I have a soft spot for it. It’s another example of his fascination with pugilists (also evidenced on his single Boxers).

It opens with the epic, 11 minute The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils. It’s built around a Shostakovich sample, accompanied by the band. There’s high drama on this one with Morrissey singing at the top of his voice lines like “somebody here will not be here next year”, and finally “to be finished would be a relief” in a highly foreboding fashion. The sentiment in the song is a bit of an about-turn from classic Smiths tune The Headmaster Ritual, this time empathising with the teachers. For a previous master of the 3 minute classic, it’s a brave departure.

After this, the album reverts to standard-issue Morrissey. Reader Meet Author is a return to what he does best, a strong 3 minute track, and Boy Racer, is a classic coy Morrissey track, about his fascination with pretty boys (“he’s just too good-looking”). The Operation is an odd track, opening with a drum solo which lasts more than 2 minutes, and the song that follows has more fighting references, though is generally unremarkable. Dagenham Dave is another track detailing Morrissey’s interest in laddish types, over a stomping beat.

Do Your Best And Don’t Worry and Best Friend On The Payroll, two very Morrissey titles, are reasonably strong songs, though the final track Southpaw is another long track at ten minutes. It’s a more downbeat ending for the album than the rest of it, all of which are quite uptempo songs. Despite some impassioned verses, the melody thereafter is moodier and the song fades out with Morrissey repeating the line “there is something that you should know”, leaving the album feeling curiously unresolved.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Album Review: American Music Club – California

Warning: this is one of my favourite albums ever, so don’t expect objectivity. American Music Club’s third album, California represented a change in direction from the fuller sound of previous album Engine, with acoustic guitars featuring a lot more prominently this time around. Released in 1988, it starts with Firefly, which heavily features the sound of a pedal steel guitar. Deeply unfashionable at the time, it paved the way for the ‘alt-country’ movement of the early ‘90s. The melody is an easy, vaguely poppy melody. Somewhere follows which is a little more generic, kind of ‘bog-standard’ alternative rock. That is until you listen to the lyrics, singer Mark Eitzel’s key line here is “we’ve got a lot to lose and maybe we can lose it all tonight”.

The heart of the album starts with Laughingstock (sic) which creeps in on a brittle guitar figure. It’s a particularly yearning song, and it, like others on the album are songs to cling to on a dark, sleepless night. Lonely follows, an anthem to self-loathing (key line “if I have to be this lonely I may as well be alone” over a vaguely REM guitar line (played by Vudi).

What spoils the album somewhat is that the production is a little weak, it’s not a particularly strong sounding album, so you really have to listen to the songs to avoid the songs drifting by without noticing them. When you do take the time to listen, Pale Skinny Girl contains some great echoey, distorted electric guitar. Blue and Grey Shirt follows, which is another late-night Eitzel classic. The hopeless yearning here is quite something to behold (key line: “I’m tired of being a spokesman for every tired thing”), enhanced by pedal steel that avoids the usual country pitfalls of cheesiness, before concluding that he “just sing my songs for people who are gone from now on”. It’s heart-breaking stuff.

Bad Liquor is totally out of step with the rest of the album and is a kind of rant over heavy sounding guitars, possible an attempt at a radio-friendly track, but it shatters the mood. The rest of the album returns to an introspective mood, with one classic after another. Now You’re Defeated sees Eitzel lamenting that he “thought there was more to life than finishing a drink”. It’s quite resigned yet the vocal delivery is sung with real passion. Jenny is a Nick Drake-esque acoustic guitar dominated song sung to the aforementioned Jenny who finds herself at “another stupid party again”, sung and played with real sensitivity.
Western Sky contains a wonderful guitar line which soars in, accompanied by a fine vocal performance from Eitzel. It’s kind of celebratory, in a miserable sort of way. Shades of Morrissey on this one, indeed Smiths/Morrissey comparisons could be made on much of this album, particular the following track Highway 5. Eitzel moans agreeably on this one, over some heavily distorted guitars. The final track, Last Harbor is a real dark night of the soul track. Eitzel pours his guts out, singing “falling, falling I don’t see the bottom” over descending, plucked guitar. There’s no coming back after this one.

Much of this album is where the band and Eitzel in particular built their songwriting reputation on. There are songs of real depth here, which reward repeated listening, and Eitzel has continued in this vein for the rest of his career, without commercial achievement, but with great artistic success.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Album Review: Sugar – Copper Blue

I have to admit that I’m largely unfamiliar with Bob Mould’s former band Husker Du, so discovering this 1992 album was an unexpected delight. It’s mostly heavy rock with crunchy guitars and great tunes.

The Act We Act roars out of the speakers with a great riff and a stomping beat, featuring a soaring guitar solo in the middle. A Good Idea cannot really be discussed without mentioning the Pixies (the beginning of the song imitates Debaser) though it turns into a pretty vital song with a nagging, insistent chorus. Changes follows in a similar vein, as do most of the songs on the album.

Helpless is a standout, with a terrific instant classic sounding guitar riff which you can’t believe you haven’t heard before. On The Slim, Mould gets ever more desperate in his vocals, bellowing them out towards the end of the song. It’s intense and hard to know where to go after this one, but the album changes gears completely after this with the acoustic guitar strum-along If I Can’t Change Your Mind, which is probably the poppiest thing on the album.

The album is a feast of guitars, and belongs in anyone’s collection.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Album Review: Smog – Wild Love

This is one of Bill Callahan’s earlier albums. Released in 1995, it’s notable for the fact that cello features in a few of the tracks. The opening track Bathysphere, is a kind of creepy song about how when he was seven he wanted to live at the bottom of the sea, which is real “shut me away from the world” stuff. The title track follows. It’s just over a minute and a half long and it continues the same vein, the only line being ‘wild love, somebody shot down my wild love’, sung with unbearable tension over harrowing cello.

Many of the tracks are under 2 minutes long, though some are little more than dodgy experiments (Sweet Smog Children, The Emperor, The Candle) with strange plinks and plonks, scraped strings. Limited Capacity has a touch of Arab Strap about it, without the vulgar lyrics.

It’s Rough is a slightly more substantial song, albeit based around 2 chords on an electric guitar. Sleepy Joe roughs things up a little with distorted guitar over a piano led song. It’s quite repetitive, like a lot of the songs on this album.

Be Hit is a good little tune, strummed on a barely in tune acoustic guitar, a bit like Beck in his acoustic moments, though the subject matter is disturbing (girls wanting to be hit, and they left him ‘cos I wouldn’t do it’). Prince Alone in the Studio is either very weird, hilarious or a combination of these. It’s probably the most dramatic song here with a descending guitar line and careful pauses for effect after each line, and definitely the longest at seven minutes. He’s helped by backing vocals from Cynthia Dall, and the track even has a false ending! Though it’s definitely not Smog’s greatest collection of songs, there’s a strange ramshackle charm to it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Album Review: Talk Talk – Laughing Stock

This was Talk Talk’s last album, released in 1991. It continues in the neo-classical direction signposted by 1988’s Spirit of Eden and takes it even further, possibly to the point of no return. There were rumours of Hollis recording a string section for hours upon end, before only using a few misplaced notes. Not sure if it’s true but it paints a picture of a highly unconventional album.

The cover illustration features a striking image of oversized colourful birds on a leafless tree, and there only six tracks on the album, all of which are quite lengthy in duration. The album opens with faint static, before a gingerly strummed electric guitar enters, followed by cello, viola and piano. The song is Myrrhman, and Mark Hollis’ voice has never sounded so tortured and desolate yet almost hymnal, with lyrics like ‘faith one path and the second in fear’, whilst being punctuated by bursts of static, and faint trumpets and horns. It’s far away from popular music, and the track ends with gentle strings and piano.

The pace picks up with Ascension Day, which features prominent percussion and again a somewhat hesitant guitar before the drums crash in, and it continues for six minutes before ending abruptly. After the Flood drifts in on barely audible piano and organ in a similar vein to the previous track, before a change in pace with Taphead, which is very sparse, Hollis’ vocals more delicate than ever before. It’s a very tense track, with a middle portion which builds up to a horn led climax, before tailing off with some echoey guitar, bass and organ.

New Grass, the penultimate track is almost like the first shoots of spring after four tracks of winter. An intricate, almost liquid guitar enters accompanied by drums and gentle piano, and Hollis sings ‘lifted up, reflected in returning love you sing’. The album is a semi-religious experience, never more so than on this track, with its references to ‘seven sacraments to song versed in Christ’ and later ‘someday Christendom will come’, along with beautiful unadorned piano interludes. Not a note is wasted on this one.

The album finishes on a very downbeat note with Runeii, which another very sparse track, gentle ratcheting guitar playing a melody that could almost be random notes, except it resolves itself into a recognisable pattern.

The album sold poorly, and there was silence from Hollis until his self-titled solo album in 1998, after which he has appeared to have retired from music. It’s very difficult to write about this somewhat forbidding, almost miserable, yet rewarding album, it almost stands apart in a genre of its own. Despite being in places a fairly sparse album, the music is highly textured and there are layers which have taken me years to discover. If anything, it’s close to classical music, perhaps Arvo Part, but that only tells part of the story.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Album Review: Tindersticks – Falling Down A Mountain

Today’s exam question: Tindersticks latest album, Falling Down A Mountain - discuss. I’ll skip past the beautiful artwork to say that this album, for Tindersticks, is all over the place. In a good way. Most of their other albums are quite a unified statement in terms of sound, but this one is a bit more playful, like music for a bright, sunny day. They seem to have lightened up a bit, perhaps due to the presence of David Kitt as part of the band?

Tindersticks have a habit of throwing a curveball with track 1, and then returning with a song that sets the mood for track 2, but this album is a little different. The title track which opens the album is a very jazzy sounding groove ie a curveball. It’s a little bit seedy, in a good way. The more conventional Keep You Beautiful follows, which is a kind of slight, languid sounding track, with a little bit of soul thrown in. Not sure what sort of mood this one sets, but Harmony Around My Table picks up the pace with probably the catchiest tune on the album, with a few dodgy-sounding lyrics thrown in for good measure (“found a penny, I picked it up and all that day I had some luck”), but it’s an uplifting song nonetheless.

Peanuts will divide the fans, I think. It’s a duet between Stuart Staples and Mary Margaret O’Hara about the aforementioned snack-food, and to my ears it’s the weakest on the album. I’m not a big fan of O’Hara’s hesitant singing, and I just don’t like the tune that much. She Rode Me Down is better, with vaguely Spanish sounding guitars, along the lines of Her from their first album, with a few flutes added to the mix, and ends up sounding like a collaboration with Calexico.

Hubbard Hill is the first of two instrumentals, and it reminds me very much of their soundtrack work for French director Claire Denis. It’s organ dominated and it’s pretty damn good if you like that sort of thing (I do!) in a kind of tragic way, with heartbreaking horns coming in halfway through. The soundtrack to a doomed romance maybe? Black Smoke is a basic two chord groove, with backing vocals prominent in the mix, while No Place So Alone is one of their more mainstream moments, more uptempo. It sounds like the band is enjoying this one, so much so that after the vocals finish they continue on for a minute or two till Staples ends the song with “1, 2, 3, 4”.

Factory Girls is sparser with a simple sad piano leading into the conclusion that “it’s the wine that makes me sad, not the love I never had”. It works well in the context of the album, but I’m not sure how well this song, or some of the others stand up on their own if heard in isolation. Another great instrumental, Piano Music ends the album with strings giving a dramatic sweep to the track (along with piano as per the title). Again it sounds like a soundtrack, perhaps to an epic black and white film that hasn’t been made yet, perhaps set on the shoreline with crashing waves.

Despite some concerns on my part, Tindersticks have come up trumps again with this album. It’s not the lyrics, or the music that make this album a masterpiece in mood creation but the sum of the whole. I’ll be listening to it for months and will probably want to rewrite this then.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Album Review: New Order – Movement

New Order’s first album, released in 1981 after the abrupt end of Joy Division, tends not to be mentioned much when New Order are discussed. It provides a kind of bridge between the two bands, as it was also produced by Martin Hannett. The shadow of their former band weighs heavy on this album.

The first track, Dreams Never End, is kind of a natural progression from Joy Division in that keyboards dominated more and more, and the drums sounded ever more mechanical. The tune is a dead ringer for The Cure’s In Between Days (released years later). Truth is quite austere, along the lines of some of the Closer material, slightly reminiscent of Decades, although on this and most of the other material on this album, the vocals, handled mainly by Bernard Sumner are a little muffled and subdued. It was obviously difficult for him to take over vocal duties from Ian Curtis who was such a distinctive vocalist.

Senses, sounds very much like it had been created entirely using synthesisers and is an interesting precursor to Blue Monday, while Chosen Time is a little non-descript. The second half of the album sounds haunted by the ghost of Curtis, but this is by no means a bad thing. ICB (Ian Curtis Buried maybe?) is a fine song, driven by Peter Hook’s bass, strong drumming from Stephen Morris and some fine guitar from Sumner, and is very danceable yet remaining a good song!

The Him is a doomy dirge which plods along with some ominous keyboards but is unremarkable, and Doubts Even Here is a similar exercise, though far better. It’s probably the most Joy Division-like song on the album, with wintry keyboards and downbeat bass, and very Curtis-like lyrics (‘day begins, collapsing without warning’), while final track Denial is all clattering keyboards and drums.
It’s easy to see why this album is not well regarded by New Order fans as it is a little derivative of their former band, they hadn’t really evolved into what they became. Nonetheless it’s a good collection of songs, in that doomy early ‘80s vein.