1980, Music

Metamatic (1980) by John Foxx

I know nothing of Ultravox, Foxx’s former band, and have no idea if this chilly, austere “synthpop” record is a major change of pace for the former Ultravox lead singer. So I don’t know how much of a departure this record really is.

Foxx has a good sense of melody and it’s easy to imagine these songs in a different genre still very much working as songs. His lyrics are well above average, too, which is something I find is not always true of synthpop. (Maybe I listen to the wrong synthpop?)

The music is made mostly by synthesizers, though there is bass guitar on at least half the tracks and apparently there is piano though I don’t recall hearing it. (Of course the piano could be treated in some way so it sounds unlike a piano, or the piano could be one of those “e-pianos”.) Like so much music that is ostensibly entirely electronic, there is the odd concession to more traditional music. But that’s certainly not the vibe – even the songs with the very obvious bass guitar still feel extremely electronic. And Foxx’s delivery, sort of a speak-sing, is appropriately robotic, which was quite vogue at the time. Fortunately Foxx mostly sounds like himself and occasionally some of the other synthop/new wave singers of the time.

Of course all of this means the music sounds extremely of its time. But for some reason I’m much more willing to forget music relying primarily or entirely on analogue synthesizers for this fault than more conventional pop rock which just incorporates touches of contemporary production to make the music sound “modern”, which then makes it sound dated only a few years later. (What I’m saying is I prefer drum machines to gated drums.)

I struggle with whether or not this is actually “synthpop” because the music is extremely downbeat and dark. It’s like proto-Depeche Mode in some ways – certainly a lot closer to Kraftwerk than the Human League.

As I’ve said basically every time I’ve reviewed a synthpop record, this isn’t my thing. But it’s a good record and feels pretty influential for those bands that wanted to embrace synthesizers but didn’t want everything to be danceable.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.