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John Foxx & The Maths
The Shape Of Things Luke Turner , March 27th, 2012 05:31

John Foxx's brilliant 2011 album Interplay saw him (along with The Maths) bring the vintage synthesizer and Ballardian aesthetics (destruction, alienation, the uncertain self) that characterised his early solo material into the 21st Century. It was one of the best modernisations of synth pop heard in recent years. Now, the prolific work rate of Foxx and collaborator and fellow analogue electronics enthusiast Benge means a follow-up, The Shape Of Things, has emerged just 12 months later.

If Interplay was a lurid, bright record, The Shape Of Things is more thoughtful and reflective. These ambitious 14 tracks have no less impact, however. Rather, their intricacies are revealed by contrast and juxtaposition. Their experimentation depicts a kind of aftermath that reflects a sense of unease, both in sketches of personal relationships severed, or lives assessed against a beautifully executed diorama of the things of modernity.

Foxx continues to deliver the best vocal form of his life, sounding like some kind of android with human lungs. Often, they sound like incantations or digital plainsong. The musician as cyborg was of course a popular trope of the synthpop era, but thirty years on Foxx is arguably one of the few artists to pull it off without sounding dated. No retro tour knackers yard for this beast.

This vocal style is perfect for his thematic union of the personal and universal, giving a sense of both detachment and experience of unasked for pain. The high synths of 'Unrecognised', which begins like something off the second side to Low, flicker like eyelashes bending under the weight of tears and Foxx looks askance at the bight folly of our neon world: "We can make mistakes/ and let the street lights hide the moonlight."

'Falling Away' has high treble guitar distortion that appears, remarkably, in that most un-Foxxian of things, an almost industrial guitar riff that's not a million miles from what Gary Numan has been doing in recent years. "Oceans cross the rooftops if we dare to close our eyes," intones Foxx, his near-chanted vocals suggesting a sage portending doom.

There is wonderful, simple pop here too of course - 'Rear-View Mirror' has a brooding, mournful funk, 'September Town' is pop with a faraway look in its eyes, the escapist 'Vapour Trails' closest to the well-engineered slickness of Interplay. 'Tides' has a jaunty, rhythmic pulse that builds into an almost euphoric acceptance of one's psychological lot in the never-ending battles of life: "I will see you change/ as the streets go by/ and the skies turn grey/ and I will be compelled to play these awful games/ again and again again."

In The Shape Of Things Foxx, ably assisted by his new lieutenants and always with one eye on dreams of an imagined future, continues to make his most startlingly contemporary sounding music in years.