June 10, 2009

Kingdom of Welcome Addiction.

The third installment of Christopher Corner's crusade against Middle England's narrow-mindedness is the first not to feature any material from the Sneaker Pimps unreleased, fourth album. Yet despite being singlehandedly composed by Corner, it's permeated by the collaborative spirit of a band at work. Perhaps because it incorporates the hallmarks of IAMX's performances, more conventional in their instrumentation than their recordings. Percussion dominates the soundscape, creating a vast, cavernous space for Corner's soaring counter-tenor to inhabit together with seemingly sparse backing. A closer listen reveals sumptuous arrangements effortlessly blending electronic and acoustic instruments, with very skillful use of multitimbrality and - as has become de rigueur of New Wave inspired electronic rock albums - enough squealing guitar accents to prompt Adrian Belew's solicitors to check on his patents.

The album's artwork further reveals how much of an in-house effort it is, designed by acquaintances and fans, circumscribing the ostensibly minimal music in an appropriately 1980s version of Constructivism. It also implies the one-man band Harlequin that has become Corner's alter-ego on stage: rhythmically his songs rarely veer from the type of marches typically found in a cabaret or circus environment. Which, incidentally, would make them easy to transcribe to tangos or waltzes, should Corner ever consider a side-project more rewarding than a simple compilation of remixes. An exception being the "jungle" jazz groove of Tear Garden, a track that no doubt plays on the homophone anglophone ears hear in Tiergarten - the Berlin hunting ground cum municipal park. Though one understands many a tear is shed in the local Biergartens as well; that typical collusion of words seems just a little to simplistic for IAMX's quite complicated world.

A further exception is the processional My Secret Friend, to which Imogen Heap - another great British innovator of laptop pop - lends her unmistakable tenor with its distinctive passaggios. That track intensifies the impression that Corner's body of work, despite firm atheist leanings, increasingly resembles a hymnal. Again, not everything may be as simple as it first appears, and The Stupid, The Proud could interestingly (or rather, maliciously) be interpreted as an expression of the persecution complex affecting many Evangelicals - despite beginning with the assertion that "God is dead." But this, ultimately, is the characteristic of truly accomplished art: it leaves room for the audience's own imagination. Equally interesting is Think of England, which as a single release simply seemed to reflect on Corner's self-imposed exile in Germany, but in the broader context of the album turns into a refutation of not only fundamentalist beliefs but the boy's adventure tale world that still informs many of Corner's compatriots as well.

As for the title, "addiction" appears to mean an unbridled passion for or devotion to a specific lifestyle, rather than straightforward substance abuse, in the "kingdom" Corner's established within his IAMX bubble. While it may be a realm conventionally considered miserable, this album is not a litany of miseries. It ends with a life-affirming one-two punch that is the Neu!-beat driven You Can Be Happy, and the celebratory The Great Shipwreck of Life. At a time when even the once quite level-headed Pet Shop Boys are composing ditties about the "chore" of celebrity, it's also refreshing to hear a popular musician admit that he's terrified at times of being lonely. Closing an album of songs that drive their lack of faith home with an almost fundamentalist fervor, is Running - a song with the clearest humanist message of them all, pondering how despite fulfilling relationships, general happiness, and overall satisfaction, one can still remain utterly alone.

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