Apollo 440 (A440) have been around since the wild west days of early 1990s electronica, part of the cross-pollination of dance, rock and hip-hop elements that artists like the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and the Prodigy made their reputations with.
A440 had always remained a fringe member of that genre, never really scoring the classic, cult status of these contemporaries.
They did enjoy some success with their reworking of Van Halen’s Ain’t Talkin’ About Love, into a rollicking dub, drum n bass anthem that, while derided by rock purists as opportunistic, has aged relatively well, sounding as fresh and ground-breaking now as it did then.
Their Electro Glide In Blue album remains one of those grossly underrated albums from an era where pickings, as far as dance music was concerned, were slim. A heady mix of powerful, eclectic beats, cinematic rushes of synths and strange sampledelic ideas managed to bridge the no-man’s land between Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and modern EDM rock, the effects of which can still be felt in the music of Radiohead (and its various hybrids), Pendulum and leftfield hip-hop. Electro Glide… was a dance Rosetta Stone, an alternative blueprint of tropes that have become the norm in today’s more progressive music, both electronica and alternative rock.
That said, the group, helmed by Trevor and Howard Gray, along with some fascinating long-time collaborators like indie-soul singer Ewan McFarlane (The Grim Northern Social ) and Mary Byker from grubbo-electronica pioneers Gaye Bykers On Acid, have never really capitalised on that initial critical success, releasing sporadically since then with collections that, while very good, lacked any kind of concrete identity. Their Dude Descending Down A Staircase album, their last full album in 2003, was a funky, clever concept work that brought together such vast and different influences like hip-hop, polymath philosophy and Jack Kerouac. Perhaps a little ahead its time, the album was hardly noticed by anyone outside of the most hardened and conscientious fans of the genre.
And so to The Future’s…
their latest album which, on the face of it, brings together the ideas of those two previous albums into one collection. Musically, the synth riffs and beats are pure 90s, and while done well and sounding really good, seems a little lazy. The song Smoke And Mirrors is a prime example of this: a little time machine back to an abandoned warehouse somewhere outside London in 1993, sounding like a C+C Music Factory riff with the bass turned up way too high. By today’s standards of dance electronica, where even the most mundane pop music contains at least some interesting electronica soundscapes, A440 here seem to be lacking imagination. It continues into A Deeper Dub, a song, again, that would be comfortable on Electro Glide…but here, seems like a 90s throwback.
But there’s good news, though, for students of modern philosophy, at least. Love Is Evil is a dubby, bluesy Floydian walk-in-the-rain soundscape wrapped around a distant spoken word sample of Slavoj Žižek, renowned cultural dissector known more for his slobby lisp and tendency to warble on for hours in said lisp about B-movies and bad art. It makes for an interesting musical marriage here, anthemic almost to the point of turning into a stadium-sized cock-rock over-indulgence, but that’s a good thing. “There is nothing,” implores Žižek, “I mean that quite literally”, in-between Ewan McFarlane Robert-Planting about a world without real love. It’s not a particularly good song, but stuck in between all the clichéd electronic beats and tepid glitchy synthesis, it stands out by virtue of being just a good musical idea.
The next track Odessa Dubstep gets right back to business of being stuck in the 1990s again, and does what it says on the box: martial beats, squiggly bits of arpeggios and orchestral Shostakovich samples. It’s all fun and danceable, but nothing new here.
As an avid fan of A440 I really want to love and enjoy the album for its fun and dancebility, its disposability and funky ideas, but to sit still and attempt to dissect the well-produced but mediocre sum of its parts is a little difficult without ridiculing its blatant ignorance of electronica music trends of the last ten years.
But before it’s all over, there is one more philosophy lecture, this time with influential discordianist-mystic Robert Anton Wilson discussing the power of synchronicity on the song Fuzzy Logic, and it manages to lift the album a little with half a smidge of a truly original musical motif, executed well enough for you to sit back and say, without the cynicism that listening to the album so far has built up, “that’s a great song”. A slow atmospheric build up evolves into searing emotive climax of guitars and keyboards that just manages to avoid cliché. It ends far too soon, as the album closes with Music Don’t Lie, sounding like a PiL B-side that has a lot of emotional catchiness, but that once again, as with the rest of The Future’s…would have sounded good in 1995. Today, it just sounds a little cheerless.
Despite having some good moments scattered inside mediocre envelopes, I was expecting better from a usually strong musical collective, but it all lacks innovation and originality.
Song writing: – nothing new is explored, might consider trying new, different collaborators.
Originality: – too much reliance on throwback 90s dance music clichés.
Lyrics: - interesting lyrical ideas and use of spoken word samples, all let down by the music.
Flow: – despite the haphazard mix of genres on the album, from rock to dance, dub to drum n bass elements, the schizophrenic qualities of this collection, and A440’s well-deserved reputation for throwing in interesting juxtapostional ideas into the mix, stand out as one the album’s few virtues and saving grace.
Production: – though clichéd and stuck in the 90s, the sound mix and well considered production values on the album are actually very good, it doesn’t quite save the album, though.