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Blancmange
Wanderlust Patrick Clarke , October 30th, 2018 08:38

Musically, Neil Arthur has entered a new realm, but as a lyricist he’s really doing something highly distinctive

Wanderlust relies on momentum, and opener ‘Distant Storm’ sets the tone. It is brisk but delicate, Arthur’s voice semi-robotic, chasing itself around in circles, stuttering its way to complete sentences. It’s like being lifted above darkening clouds, although not without struggle, carried over the rest of the record’s vignettes, sometimes slowing, stopping and examining a single, richly painted scene, at others racing back upwards with searing momentum.

Right through to the final song – the vast drift into the horizon that is the record’s title track – Wanderlust relies on this momentum. This album works when Blancmange harness either a sense of briskness and pace or a detailed high-focus close-up. ‘Gravel Drive Syndrome’ stands out with a brusque and sinister march of creaking electro, while the record’s instrumental highlight is ‘White Circle, Black Hole’, throwing itself between melancholy, resignation and hope with subtle additions and subtractions of texture.

‘Leaves’ boasts an explosive and overwhelming wave of grimly majestic synthesized brass; ‘TV Debate’ slows the pace to an idle stagnation as Arthur paints a portrait of a channel-surfer, bombarding him with disparate images from his television, his delivery direct to the point of obnoxiousness. This is meant as a compliment – his portrait is extremely vivid; you can practically taste the flat lager and smell the stale cigarette smoke.

It’s in moments like this that Arthur’s writing really shines. For the most part blunt, direct and realist in content, he delivers them in strange loops, cutting them into fragments that sometimes repeat and circle back on themselves before they can come to a complete end. ‘I Smashed Your Phone’ is ostensibly about, well, a smashed phone, but is raised to something that hints, just slightly, at something cosmically more. Then Arthur mentions that he smashed said phone outside Yordas Cave, evoking the Nordic Giant that some say it’s named after, and that it splintered into fragments “like in an Arthur C Clarke”, and this bizarre, square-peg-round-hole awkwardness gives the track an engaging hint at something more, as if forcing you to look beyond.

When Arthur’s writing dovetails with the record’s instrumental peaks – as on ‘White Circle, Black Hole’ and ‘Leaves’ – it can have an astounding and dizzying effect. But there are points where it simply becomes a little grating. Sometimes his writing can be clunky without redeeming itself – the hammy “Fancy a pint?” that opens ‘Gravel Drive Syndrome’ for example. ‘Talking To Machines’ is the worst offender: a kitschy, trip-hop-lite thump whose endless refrain of the track’s title soon becomes annoying, and then simply boring.

At other points, Blancmange simply go for straightforward sincerity. ‘Please be yourself / You can’t be anybody else,’ Arthur sings along with Hannah Peel on ‘Not A Priority’. It’s a simple line delivered with an endearing passion and creative intent that’s difficult to fault. It is this sense of earnestness that shines through on Wanderlust. It may be hit and miss, in terms of seizing its own momentum and blending Arthur’s left-field writing with its steely electronica, but it shimmers with personality.

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