Noel Draper reviews Semi-Detached, Blancmange’s fifth album that is “electronica of the highest order”.

You might have read the interview The Cutter did with Blancmange a couple of months ago in which Neil Arthur hoped that his new album would provide “structured songs with some/ plenty of interesting sounds and lyrics”. Well, I am happy to report that Mr Arthur got it spot on. It does. In spades. What he failed to mention though was that this latest offering would start sounding musically like Blancmange’s other albums, in no way a criticism by the way, and end with one of the most deliciously dark songs about breaking up I have ever heard.

‘Semi Detached’ feels like a journey, and a slightly depressing one but in a good way, where Neil’s slightly morose words and delivery overlap cheerful electronic pop. It begins with a homage to Mark E Smith’s band, ‘The Fall’, who gave a just starting out Blancmange “humorous encouragement”, and is an upbeat song about splitting up confirming his penchant for writing songs with abstract juxtapositions. Lines like “You’ll be on the Central Line, applying make up to those eyes” are sung with an honest emotive voice whilst an incessant keyboard loop is trying to break into the chorus around them. Lovely stuff indeed. Next up is the most ‘Blancmange’ sounding song on the album, “I Want More”, which turns out to be a cover version of a single by the German experimental rock outfit, Can, with added eastern beats, which explains its familiarity.

The album continues to pick up the pace with the new single, “Paddington”, before moving onto a song that could have been written by fellow electronic survivors, Depeche Mode. “It didn’t take long” has a fantastic keyboard rhythm running its entire length whilst Neil’s haunting, almost spoken words cut through it, creating that contrast I spoke of earlier. It really is a beautifully crafted song and one I feel is better suited for a first single release.

Mr Blancmange and haunting songsmith Neil Arthur.

Blancmange continue to provide electronica of the highest order, tempered with pithy, increasingly darker lyrics as gorgeously demonstrated on “Like I Do”. Neil sings “They never cared for you, they never cared like I do” with such loving, tempered anger that you believe every word. The constant play on good and bad, heaven and hell, happiness and despair, could have grated by now if it wasn’t for the strength of these lyrics, you can hear the humour occasionally pushing through the doom and gloom, allowing the balance to continue. This is clearly evident on the second to last track, “Useless”, especially with the line “everybody loves you, useless as you are”.

The trouble is, what has come before on this album, the journey from the early days, the break ups, the late night/ early morning tube journeys, the pop electronica, the sad but emotive lyrics, the feeling of losing and never re-gaining a love lost, all beautifully sung and written, all extremely well crafted songs in their own right, could not have ever prepare you for the explosion of misery that is present in the last song on the album. “Bloody Hell Fire”, is a fantastic dirty guitar led ode to a relationship in the process of ending sung with such immense passion that it feels like the listener is stuck in the middle of a violent row. It almost feels awkward and is utterly, utterly brilliant. It is easily the best song on the album, which is no mean feat considering what’s on offer, and shows a new side to Neil Arthur. a side where the music actually sits alongside the lyrics rather than trying to compete against them.

So there you go, structured songs with some/ plenty of interesting sounds and lyrics. Add in a corker of an ending and you have an album that rarely disappoints, hits a few highs and provides one of the songs of the year so far.

Semi-Detached will be available on four formats – CD, Ltd Edition Deluxe Double CD, Vinyl LP and digital download – from March 23rd.

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