CD, WTII Records, 2009
In this age of the music industry constantly re-evaluating and repackaging it’s back-catalogues, I guess it was only a matter of time before we saw more of this in the industrial scene. Of course, some labels and bands that I’m sure I don’t need to name have been at this for ages, but I don’t seem to recall many Wax Trax! bands being affected. Then again, I don’t really recall Dessau much, either.
And listening to much of this for either the first time or the first time in many, many years, I didn’t appear to miss a lot, either. Yes, it’s perfectly passable industrial of a kind that is all but history now, but the thing is, others did it better. And to add to that, with the album compiled in an apparently random order, it’s difficult to pick up any real progression, either.
Opener “On The Banks Of The Wabash, Far Away” is quite odd, with it’s bizarre samples and messy, half-baked structure, which follows nicely into the first of a few covers – a cover of the old, old, old Ministry track “Revenge”, which grooves pretty well, while “Sun” is clearly newer, with it’s neater, cleaner programming and brief, savage rips of guitars shattering the peace.
The other problem with music like this, which at the time of release is often at the cutting-edge of electronics, is that some styles really date badly – and a perfect example of this is the shuffling, trip-hop-esque beats and middle-eastern vocal samples that permeate “Chalkline”. This isn’t industrial, it’s coffee table music. “Trevethan” at least sounds a little more alive, but is nothing you haven’t heard before, either (think late-80’s Ministry with Nitzer Ebb-style vocals). A cool groove, yes, but that’s it.
There are a few moments here that are great, though, in amongst the rest. “Seldom Travelled” is built around a monstrous, stabbing synth line, and ‘classic’ single “Beijing” actually deserves the title. A filthy, menacing bass line, thumping beats and of course a nod to the political situation of the time.
And then one of the older tracks here – “Imperial Hotel” – begins sounding for all the world like Cabaret Voltaire to begin with, and then morphs into a mid-paced, gothic-infused eighties relic but keeping a Cabaret Voltaire-esque synth line (pretty much the same as the one from “Just Fascination”, in fact) bubbling away.
One last kick in the teeth is saved for the end. Much has been made of their cover of Joy Division’s “Isolation”, so why it is here in a shockingly poorly – like, to the level of barely audible – live recording is beyond me, and the same fate befalls their cover of “Ceremony” by the same band. It beggars belief that those who compiled this thought they were of a quality to put on CD – frankly I’d be complaining if they were released on a bootleg.
The title is really quite appropriate, in some respects – I’m still struggling, after a number of listens, to understand exactly why this retrospective is necessary, and indeed, who is really going to be that interested other than treating this as a relic from the past. A long-forgotten band who were too similar to some of their much more successful and more creative contemporaries to warrant too much attention, and their best known work is a cover. The truth hurts indeed.
— Adam Williams