Releasing a synthesizer led album which takes influence from the sounds and styles of the 80’s can be a tricky thing. A lot of this type of music ends up sounding like the crap end of the 80’s spectrum, coming over all Howard Jones like many of the much vaunted bands currently filling the charts with bland nonsense.
If you’re smart, you’ll instead look at the likes of early Human League, the pop joy of Depeche Mode’s Speak & Spell, Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk and New Order at their Power Corruption & Lies best and produce something that takes influence from early electronic pioneers but has your own unique stamp on it. Something cool in other words.
Age Of Anxiety by Rodney Cromwell falls squarely into the latter category. This is an album filled with the very best parts of sythnpop and is overflowing with songs that you can’t help but love. Opener The Internationale is a brief bleepy, almost ice cream van tune sounding intro which us into the gentle, Hot Chip without the knowing element loveliness of Cassiopeia. Wave after wave of calming noise washes over you before a distorted vocal underpinned with a New Order like bass sound intervenes briefly before returning you to the main waves of noise albeit with the addition of a melodic performed melody. That is always a welcome thing. Barry Was An Arms Dealer follows, sounding a bit like an angry early OMD if Martin Gore had written for them instead of Depeche. Comparisons aside, it’s a bloody great tune and, if you’re only picking one from this album to listen to, make it this one. Picking only one track would be foolish though as the following track You Will Struggle is just as good as Barry… and adds an I Feel Loved like bassline to that track’s synthpop perfection. A run of exceptional tracks continues with One Two Seven with vocodered lyrics (“One Two Seven…Disco Heaven”) and melodies that are cousins of Computer World, specifically Numbers, funnily enough.
Fax Message Breakup comes next and its melodica and melodies reminds me again of New Order, albeit New Order if they’d focused on pop. The chorus is a joy and a special mention must be made of the line “I sold some records but not a lot/I won’t be floating Happy Robots” which is just superb. It’s a genuinely excellent track, as is the following Baby Robot which is underpinned by what sounds like New Order’s Temptation played at three times the speed. The Blue Cloud then takes you to the disco albeit not a crap one but one where Girogio Moroder and Kraftwerk were in charge before the penultimate track Fenchurch Street”s tale of doomed romance with an Essex girl recalls Soft Cell albeit without any of the Soho sleaze. We then end on the near 7 minute long Black Dog which is an absolute stormer. Ok, it perhaps pays too much of a tribute to New Order but that’s easily forgivable on a track this good.
Ok, so as a long term fan of what I deem to be the good side of synthpop as the endless references to the acts above may have hinted, I’m perhaps going to be slightly biased here but this is a genuinely excellent album. It’s clever, it’s full of songs that instantly burrow into your head and, like all good pop albums, the majority of songs here could be singles in their own right. With an album this good, Rodney Cromwell could very easily prove himself wrong when he says he won’t be selling lots of and floating Happy Robot Records – if there’s any justice he’ll do just that.