Recoil "subHuman" Review by Paul Raven (Subba-Cultcha)10.07.2007
Recoil - subHumanA much-anticipated return for Alan Wilder's collaborative project, as his studio wizardry takes a trip to the Deep South.
It's been seven years since the last record from Recoil, but former Depeche Mode muso Alan Wilder is back with subHuman; a rich and complex slab of studio-based audio landscaping. While there's none of the poetry and spoken word that featured on some of the previous releases, there's still plenty to get your teeth into.
subHuman comes across as a more thematically complete piece of work compared to the albums that preceded it; it consists of the now-traditional moody and dark quasi-industrial soundscapes, but with a strong yet subtle Cajun flavour cooked in from start to finish. As well as a definite sonic style, the songs themselves keep to a theme of social commentary – the inherent hypocrisies of religion and politics; stories about addiction, racism and institutionalised violence in the seedy broken underbelly of the American Deep South, and the world beyond; examinations of plurality, of how people see each other and themselves based on creed and colour; a long hard look at the attitudes that nations and systems have to the people they control.
Even if you don't pay much attention to the lyrics (which would be a shame), there's still plenty to appreciate musically. Layer upon layer of lush tones, artificial and natural alike, seamlessly blending reality with imagination; ethereal synth lines rub shoulders with filtered slide guitars and harmonica squeals, all hanging above intricate yet understated drumming and electronic percussion. It's not a heavy sound, but it's thick - almost smothering, like heavy velvet curtains or layers of smoke in a back-room blues-club. I'm a great fan of music that has depth and space, music that can be entered into and explored – subHuman's landscapes encourage and reward this sort of listening.
Recoil has always been a collaborative project, with Wilder recruiting a wide selection of guest vocalists to work with him. subHuman features Carla Trevaskis providing silky and haunting female vocal parts, but the mainstay of the album (and co-developer of many of the song ideas) is the smoky drawl of Joe Richardson, who Wilder allegedly discovered by Googling for 'blues singer-songwriter'; this is where much of the Deep Southern flavour has come from, with Joe drawing on the events of his own life on the edge in New Orleans and elsewhere (and those of people he has known) for lyrical inspiration – lyrics he then delivers with an authenticity that can only come from genuine experience.
The end result is pure Recoil – subtle, intelligent and expressive music, lushly produced and full of detail. But subHuman stands out from the back catalogue due to its unique thematic integrity, coming across like a soundtrack to a movie as yet unfilmed. If you have any interest whatsoever in what music can achieve when feed from the straight-jacket of the three minute pop song, you owe it to yourself to listen to this album.
By: Paul Raven