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Stephen Mallinder
Tick Tick Tick Jeremy Allen , July 18th, 2022 08:52

Ex-Cabaret Voltaire man on his usual fine form, coming up with a suite of songs that would not have sounded out of place coming from his old band, finds Jeremy Allen

Stephen Mallinder and Richard H. Kirk are bound together in our consciousness, even if they parted ways professionally in the mid-90s. As Cabaret Voltaire members and musical innovators, they’ll always be synonymous, and Kirk’s untimely death last year is unlikely to change that.

Mallinder’s ex-partner revived the Dada-inspired name for touring purposes from 2009 forwards, and left us with one final offering in 2020’s Shadow of Fear. There was clearly an uneasiness about assuming that name again, though the pair have continued to make Cabaret Voltaire music whether together or apart. This is, after all, a group that could go from something as geo-politically charged and nasty as 1981’s Red Mecca in 1981, to something as waywardly poppy as Groovy, Laidback and Nasty nine years later. Cabaret Voltaire is a broad church that accommodates both of them, if not in name then in spirit.

Both worked under aliases after Mallinder moved to Australia in 1994. He under several; Kirk under a multitude. Broadly speaking, Kirk’s music in its many guises speaks of alienation, where there’s a subtle warmth to what Mallinder does, even when he’s really angry like on Wrangler’s 2020 A Situation. And then there’s his crisp, intelligent syntax, whispered exigently, cutting through even when it’s deeply distorted or forced to jump through modulation hoops. It has been imitated but never bettered, as triple platinum selling albums like Pretty Hate Machine will attest.

And so for Stephen Mallinder’s third solo album Tick Tick Tick, it really is business as usual. It might be less experimental than his previous record under his own name, Um Dada, and less political than the aforementioned A Situation, though that’s not to say that tracks like ‘Working (You Are)’ or ‘How To Start A Revolution’ would sound out of place here. Texture wise, these new songs could just as easily interchange with anything from Cabaret Voltaire’s 1983 The Crackdown or 1984’s Micro-Phonies and only the truly switched on would be any the wiser. Mallinder and his silent partner Benge have crafted a steel bridge that connects the early major label magic of the Cabs with the here and now, a product of an antipathy to digital and a reliance on dependable old drum machines, synthesisers and sequencers.

That said, there’s a cohesion and a vigour to Tick Tick Tick that may make it Mallinder’s finest and most enjoyable record in at least ten years (take a bow Hey Rube’s criminally slept on Can You Hear Me Mutha recorded with Fila Brazillia’s Steve Cobby in 2012). ‘Contact’ comes bursting out of the traps and is carried along by an insistent cowbell, and ‘Shock To The Body’ is even more punishing and catchy with its piston-like propulsive beat. Best of all is ‘Hush’, a dreamlike, electro-psychedelic dance banger for the ages, where the aural wallpaper seems to liquify as the rhythm pushes through the middle-distance. Stephen Mallinder has never sounded more comfortable in his own skin, and more vital making the kind of music he helped to invent. Who wouldn’t want to put their own name to something as marvellous as that?