The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


John Foxx & The Maths
Evidence Ben Graham , March 5th, 2013 10:55

Add your comment »

For someone who seemed to drop off the radar completely between, say, 1983 and 2010, John Foxx has been pleasingly prolific of late. Evidence is his third album in as many years in collaboration with The Maths (aka Benge), and a cursory glance at the Foxx discography reveals over twenty albums released, in various guises and collaborations, since 1997 - disproving any notion that this Foxx has only recently broken cover (though he did in fact retire from music in the late eighties, working as an illustrator and art lecturer under his given name of Dennis Leigh). It's obvious by now that this is no revival act, so perhaps it's time that we stopped comparing Foxx's new output to that of his perceived heyday - as frontman of Ultravox mk.1 and solo hitmaker with cult classics like 'Underpass' and 'No-One Driving' - and started judging it on its own merits, and by contemporary standards. For at age 65, Foxx the arch-futurist still more than measures up.

Evidence is an assemblage of sorts, a collection of tracks that Foxx and Benge recorded piecemeal over the last couple of years, some previously released, others not. It's to the pair's credit that the album hangs together as well as it does. It also contains some of John Foxx and the Maths' most adventurous work to date, alongside some of their most accessible. Take the title track, previously issued as a limited edition single in cahoots with San Francisco darkwave psychedelicists The Soft Moon. If the Moon's last LP, Zeroes, was full of great sounds but somewhat lacking in great songs, then this muscular, catchy track redresses the balance, Foxx's strychnine-sharp vocal hooks sliding hard against booming, factory-fattened bass riffs. Defiantly modern yet instantly classic, this is moody synthpop heaven.

Cut from similar cloth is 'My Town', where Foxx's vocals sound like he's chewing up the gravel and the tarmac, spitting through the traffic and gorging on the confusion of digital and analogue radio signals. One criticism is that this potential urban anthem seems to cut out just as it's getting started, like a fragment of a greater whole, a hymn to the metropolis only teasingly glimpsed. Instead, the track leads into a cover of Pink Floyd's 'Have a Cigar', originally released on a Mojo cover-mount CD. Here Foxx's vocals are even more heavily treated and robotic, emphasising the song's message of the artist being swallowed up by the machine. You suspect, though, that Foxx almost relishes this experience, or that his solution is to become a more effective machine than the corporate music industry Floyd were originally satirising (not that difficult, to be fair). Foxx is obviously a Pink Floyd fan; I remember seeing him cover 'The Great Gig in the Sky' at a show several years ago, and he's never been shy of admitting his roots in 1960s psychedelia. Here, he rehabilitates the track through a firm but respectful regime of calisthenics and discreet vitamin shots. The lingering, dope-smoking hippy slacker is banished, but not brutalised, and a tough, sinewy melody is teased out as the prog-rock flab falls away.

'That Sudden Switch,' with Xeno and Oaklander, is almost church-like, the choral minimalism of the vocals blending to baroque effect, while 'Walk' has the enervating alienation that is characteristic of Foxx's finest work, casting him as an urban flaneur cruising the modern landscape, dispassionate in dystopia. This is Iggy's 'The Passenger' without the directionless apathy; Foxx "walks," his deliberate forward movement a small but decisive existential act, the one positive, human choice he has left.

Elsewhere, Foxx and Benge trade remixes with Brighton electro-artist Gazelle Twin, Benge relocating the ghostly, yearning vocal from her song 'Changelings' into an endless alien landscape, Foxx forever lurking in the long shadows of the red dwarf sun. Gazelle Twin returns the favour on 'A Falling Star' from Interplay. Again, she strips the song bare and rebuilds it from scratch, not only creating a superior, more ambiguous version, both harder and more languorous, but also in a way emphasising the original's late Roxy Music, brittle imperial grandeur. But it's perhaps the instrumental pieces that most define the album; from the Orbital-esque skips and flutters of the opening 'Personal Magnetism' to the queasy spacewalk of 'Neon Vertigo' and the space shuttle piggy-back of 'Cloud Choreography' and 'Shadow Memory'; pulsing, flickering fragments of what the androids really dream about.

Due to its somewhat odds n' sods nature, Evidence is less an album in the traditional sense, and more a collection of possibilities; attractive angles and alternative futures. One thing's for sure though, these tracks are nobody's leftovers. How long Foxx and Benge will continue their partnership remains to be seen, but on any terms, Evidence is an impressive addition to their existing body of work.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.

Mar 5, 2013 4:46pm

Great review, enjoyed reading it. Bit late though, I'm sure this album came out ages ago?

Reply to this Admin

Post-Punk Monk
Mar 5, 2013 7:58pm

Apparently, they are releasing these albums first to the Foxx Store @ Townsend with general release coming some months later. This is the general release, and I agree that it's dazzling, supremely forward thinking material. I have a new Foxx Fave in the title track “Evidence,” which opens with a fragmented echo of the doppler synth drone of “Underpass.” It soon gives way to a windblown wave of desolate white noise as Foxx probes the moral dilemmas inherent in the new surveillance state. Specifically, when observing events, how to tell the difference between intention of action and mere coincidence. The track unfolds like a slow motion car accident as Foxx’s phased vocals are as distant and remote as the moral center of The State.

If I had to use NASA-centric metaphors, “Interplay” was an earth orbit; spiraling around a beautiful blue green globe. Powerful and yet familiar for all of its newness. “The Shape Of Things” is a journey to the far side of the moon. The trip is somewhat familiar but marked by solitude and eerie stillness. “Evidence” is a deep space trip to the Jovian satellites. It bears little of the earth/moon familiarity and the photovoltaic panels are relying on what few solar emissions are available at the far reaches of the solar system. So expenditures of energy are lower. Much of the trip is spent in cryostasis.
For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of yesterday®

Reply to this Admin

Mar 6, 2013 1:45am

It's great seeing how much attention John Foxx and the Maths are getting (deservedly, to be sure), but there's a lot of gold in all those other albums since his 1997 comeback, too. It's been a remarkable and long sustained comeback.

Reply to this Admin

Post-Punk Monk
Mar 6, 2013 12:51pm

In reply to Steve:

Steve - So right. The Louis Gordon material is great, and the many tributaries of contemporary Foxx from his ambient to his collaborative albums were all worthwhile. It's just that I think Benge is his finest collaborator ever. His re-emergence has been a great musical gift to me. It's far obliterated the drudgery of the Foxx-less years. Foxx was the only musician I respected who did the wise thing and sat out most of the Thatcher years. Unlike many other I could name, who seriously damaged their names in the mid-80s and beyond.
For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®

Reply to this Admin

Mar 9, 2013 6:21pm

Great review, even better album. Foxx has been on a synthetic role for years now - not just with The Maths but with Louis Gordon on previous brilliant albums such as "From Trash" and "Crash and Burn." He's a genius, straight up.

Reply to this Admin