John Peel had 12 Cabaret Voltaire albums in his collection. It makes sense. The band never stood still for long in their musical journey, changing their style from their experimental beginnings to arty punk-funk to house music and finally electronic in the '90s. That wanderlust fits Peel’s career too, always looking for the new sound and wanting to hear something different.
Cabaret Voltaire’s pinnacle album for me is 1983’s The Crackdown. The band had gone from a trio of Stephen Mallinder (vocals, bass, percussion), Richard H. Kirk (guitars, synthesizers, tapes) and Chris Watson (drums) to just Mallinder and Kirk. The remaining two decided to move toward a more commercial new wave sound while still keeping the menacing textures of their earlier releases. Their decision paid off in the end, with The Crackdown reaching number 31 in the U.K. Album Chart.
The album opens with “24-24” and sets the tone of creeping dread. With the vocal sample of “24, 24, 24 hours a day” and Mallinder’s voice treated like he was singing in a plastic bag, you’re not sure what you're in for over the nine songs, but there is that pop/dance element that keeps things from becoming too anxious.
Listen to “24-24”:
On what would have been the beginning of side two, “Just Fascination” bounces along on a sharp rhythm with glass-shattering beats, fluttering keyboards, guitar chord stabs and Mallinder’s snarled vocals blending into an unsettling but danceable experience.
Listen to “Just Fascination”:
The final song on the album and the title track, “The Crackdown” is less claustrophobic than “Just Fascination” with its hiccupping beats and Mallinder’s spoken lyrics, but it grows more intense as it moves along until it explodes in the final moments with the chat of “crackdowns,” then dissipates to an industrial grinding noise before disappearing into a chime-like keyboard refrain.
Listen to “The Crackdown”:
It’s a compelling album from start to finish with its mixture of industrial clank and dance-funk rhythms. If looking for a challenging record that will make you move and one that has not been dated in 30 years, there’s no better place to start than here.
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