Cabaret Voltaire - "Code" (Issued 3/87 by EMI Manhattan Records USA, LP)

From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)

In many ways, this LP was the culmination of the sound CV spent much of the mid-80s perfecting, a highly-politically charged undanceable dance music for the era! After the success of "Micro-Phonies"(Virgin Records 1985) worldwide, they moved toward a sound that was a completely revolutionary take on the ideas laid down by such diverse artists/influences as 70s Miles, Hawkwind, Eno-era Roxy Music, Kraftwerk, James Brown, Can, Avant-Garde film makers, and J.G. Ballard's eye-popping 1960-1980s short stories and Novels. (Note: if you're unfamiliar, Ballard has been deemed one of the most unusual writers in whatever genre he chooses to write, from hard Core Science Fiction to Speculative Fiction to Detective novels! A proponent of the "New Wave" of SF writers in the mid-sixties, he often stated "SF's new frontier was not in Space, but in describing the interfaces between man and everyday technology in the present or near future!" (I paraphrase) His work inspired David Cronenberg to film the startling novel "Crash"(1973) in 1995, and it was refused distribution here until 1997! Judged by many one of his best works, the review that appeared in the New York Times Book Reviews called "Crash" the work of a Psychotic! For the uninitiated, try a collection of his short stories, they are rewarding reading!!!!!).

The lyric matter of this release is a running critique of the conduct of the USA in executing its foreign policy in the 1980s! Steven Mallinder and Richard Kirk make serious assault on the nonsense, jingoism and Red-baiting that then President Ronald Reagan and his accomplices engaged in, from Nicaragua to Afghanistan to Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa, Guyana, Jamaica, Chile, Cuba, Libya, Iran, Germany, Poland, the list of countries whose policies and well-being were tampered with by the Reaganites is Endless!

With the exception of occasional Guitar (from ex-Be-Bop Deluxe axeman Bill Nelson), and some BassGuitar, CV moved completely into the realm of computerized instrumentation, working with the phenomenal Fairlight DMI. Onboard also is producer Adrian Sherwood. There is a slight loss of texture with the absence of Mallinder's BassGuitar work, but his vocals are superior on this recording, and the voice seems fully realized throughout the work!

"Don't Argue" begins with a sample from a 1950s US Airforce training film for pilots should they be shot down over enemy territory! Once the Bass drum kicks in the tune is an example of the pure heavy dance grooves that wouldn't become popular until the "Techno" era of the mid-late 1990s! Mallinder's sneering vocals convey the creepy paranoia, the philosophically Racist arrogance and sheer insult of the Reagan administration's gunboat diplomacy! The tune was issued as an extended play 12 inch in the UK, and featured Nona Hendrix exchanging vocals with Mallinder, and Nelson executing a completely different Guitar line!

"Sex, Money & Freaks" addresses itself to the silly excess consumerism and worship of priviledge that became so much a part of the 1980s (remember the TV show "Dallas", with it's ridiculous images of over 50 adults trying to look and act like horney teenagers!). Marc Brydon contributes some BassGuitar to this track, and Mallinder's vocal is so sinister and low-down you'd expect him to begin begging for some cocaine, a Benz and a Madonna single!

"Thank You America" seems to be a direct attack on the actions of War Criminal and Drug Dealer Oliver North, but uses a sample of Reagan's voice, appropriate since Reagan was such a moron he had little knowledge of what activity his subordinates were engaging in, like trading Weapons for Hostages, backing Islamic fundamentalists, dealing Crack Cocaine for the Contras, supporting terrorism and apartheid in South Africa, neglecting the poor and indigent at home, Euro-Centric/ Macho Chauvinistic Race-baiting and Red-baiting!

"Here to Go" has a bass figure that rests on the downbeat, creating great musical tension, while Mallinder tells us to "Sharpen Up, Relax"(or is he saying "Chop her up with an axe?). Kirk works wonders with the fairlight, with some especially enlightening funk being created on this tune. Especially note-worthy is the use of beat displacement in the drum program, and the fact the bass parts never start on the downbeat!. Also groovy are the sampled female choral vocals. The whole piece gets you up and dancing, but the vocals are a warning that bad shit's going on here.

"Trouble Won't Stop" describes a failed obsession over a heavy one-note ostinado., whilst Mallinder sounds like a person in deep, all he can get from the object of his obsession is "Cool Air". Bass/treble, two extreme poles between which lie the object of all this energy. Released in the UK as a 12 inch, the dance mix was once again completely different, with yet another Guitar line and female vocal!

"White Car" was the B side of the aforementioned 12 inch, and is different as well. The tune on the LP I thought should've been the soundtrack for the movie "Pretty Woman", with it's descriptions of the rich, the wasteful nature of their lifestyles and the way people become tools to be used for frivolous status! This tune is uptempo, at a speed uncharacteristic for the time (1987), and shows a great deal of the influence of the Detroit House crews who were to become prominent in the early 1990s.

"Code reflects the nature of relationships in the cyber society; considering they wrote it 13 years before the computerization of most of our lives in the west, it's pretty damn accurate. There are obvious references to the work of J.G. Ballard's future prediction stories in they have created an aural representation of the atmospheres Ballard generates with written language. One finds interesting musical references to New Order in some of the tune's bridges, and the vocal delivery is very "in the clear".

This LP was released in the Spring of 1987, with little chance for promotion and airplay in the US, although it did nicely in the UK and Germany! It is interesting that it is the only Cabaret Voltaire recording from the period that has not been reissued on CD in the US (although available for a prohibitive price from Virgin Records Japan). Interested listeners should search the dance bins in their local used record shops, or shell out nearly $35.00 (in NYC) for a copy of the Japanese CD.

Reviewed by Doug Walker

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