CD, A Different Drum, 2008
The 1980s, the golden age of electronic pop music, great bands like Depeche Mode, The Human League and Soft Cell topping the charts, it seemed like anything might be possible with the help of synthesisers. Who can forget the Australian act Real Life, with their classic hit record, “Send Me An Angel”? Well, I have to admit I don’t know if I’ve heard this song, and only know the band name from compilation track lists, but maybe they were big in their home country. Anyway, here we have Real Life’s old keyboardist, George Pappas, with his solo project, Alien Skin, apparently the only thing he’s done since the good old days of the eighties. This is quite surprising when listening to “Don’t Open Till Doomsday,” because the quality of this album sounds like he’s been hard at it, perfecting his craft for over twenty years.
A very enjoyable collection of subtly understated and carefully executed synthpop tracks that veers between melancholic ballads and more upbeat dance numbers, the debut of Alien Skin seems strangely titled, when really it should be opened and heard soon without further delay! “The Outer Limits” and “Razor Arms” form a gentle introductory pairing, with delicate melodies and a sparse feeling, with themes of sleep and breathlessness, blood and fire. “Saviour” picks up the pace slightly and lightens the mood, with a heartfelt ode to a lover, a little too sweet, perhaps, whereas “The Spirit Is Willing” has an odd-speaking woman intoning over a neatly groovy electro/disco piece complete with exciting vocoders.
When things slow down once more for “It Doesn’t Matter (I Want You),” a moody film noir feeling gives the contemporary electronic sounds a great opportunity to shine, similarly on the appropriately titled “Gloomy Sunday,” which unfortunately is one of the weaker moments for the vocals and lyrics. “For Always” is definitely one of the highlights of the album, with simple yet effective words sounding sincere and touching, but then “Burning In My Hands” has a bit of a struggle to get going, which is a little frustrating. A curiously exotic horn sound dominates “Dust To Ashes 1945,” lending urgency over an insistent bass line, before finally the eponymous closing track sends us off to dreams of mystery and intrigue with its repeated spoken phrase ,”the stranger within.”
So with no complaints other than the occasional cheesy lyric or annoying vocal effect, which accompany most synthpop albums of above average quality these days, Alien Skin’s debut offers a maturity and expertise lacking in the majority of similar groups and is recommended.
— Nathan Clemence