This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… John Foxx February 23, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to..., Uncategorized.
John Foxx was an oddity, and no mistake. At least he was in the early 1980s, ploughing a furrow parallel to that of one G. Numan. And yet Foxx had got there first with Ultravox – when they were good, or at least not that bad. All that anomie, all that new wave take on cod-detachment by way of Ballard had largely been copyrighted by him [albeit originally patented by one D. Bowie] and the others in that band. Yet it was Numan who, heavier on the Bowie than Foxx (no small feat), heavier still on the synths, managed to combine the sounds into something entirely unique (for an indication of just how unique consider the Tubeway Army album, still infused with the tatters and remnants of guitar and punk and then contrast that with the mechanical purity of the first Numan solo album).
There’s No One Driving and Underpass were convincingly alienated for all but the most jaded sixteen year old music fan at the time. And seeing as I’ve mentioned him above, it was all Ballard all the time in Foxx’s world – from the titles and lyrics to the sounds – Plaza, Metal Beat, He’s A Liquid. But it wasn’t just that. I’ve read that Foxx was interested in Catholic mysticism. Perhaps so, certainly there’s some interesting stuff at work in all this. And there was also quite a speedy dynamic to his output that belied the subject matter. Tracks like Burning Car and 20th Century moved along at a rattling pace – and with hints of one J. Lydon here and there.
Still, listening back now one wonders did Foxx tire rapidly of it. If that first tranche of songs are futurist classics then the next lot, while no less good, seemed to take a slightly different direction. Europe After the Rain is vastly more commercial – and oddly reminiscent in tone of post Foxx Ultravox, or perhaps less worryingly mid to late period Roxy Music. As is Miles Away and Endlessly, though the pop direction is undercut (or perhaps supported) by some oddly abrasive keyboard sounds – that on the chorus of Miles Away is a good example with a keening sound that works oddly well or some tape trickiness on Endlessly.
Subsequently he carved out quite a career in music (as well as being a graphic designer) producing solo albums that shifted as time progressed towards ambient and collaborations with Harold Budd, Robin Guthrie and others. And I have to admit I’ve found those to particularly interesting and enjoyable. While always able to produce the spaciousness that characterises ambient his way with melodies is perhaps more astute than most.
But as if that weren’t enough for at least two posts in this series he then returned in 2011 with a new incarnation – John Foxx and the Maths, a collaboration between himself and producer/musician and synth specialist Benje and a new album, Interplay, which surprisingly, but to great effect, link right back to the approaches of the earlier synth pop phase of his career (not least because it uses analogue synths from the period of Foxx’s solo work).
So on this one will hear hints of EBM, electronica and so on but all reshaped to produce something that is up to date and yet also referential. But then Foxx has never been one afraid of the experimental or discordant during any phase of his career, even if the tendency has generally been tilted towards the melodic.
Catwalk has a chord progression we’ve heard a million times before and yet the vocals sound utterly world weary in a way one doubts his 30 year old incarnation could quite pull off. Evergreen has a simple yet memorable melody line and and fizzing away in the mix are the spiky keyboard sounds and lines which characterised his earlier work.
It’s not perfect. There’s one or two moments one would have to wonder about. Destination is a great track, but those of us who have heard Future Sailor from the Mighty Boosh will hear certain resonances (and googling it I find I’m not the only one who had that thought). But that’s okay, Barratt and Fielding have never made any secret of their love of all things synth and glam so let’s chalk that up to convergent musical evolution. But these are minor issues. There’s been no end of 1980s synth pop stalwarts releasing albums over the last few years, but to me this is perhaps the most credible and effortless one I’ve heard so far, perhaps in part because it’s so easy with its original sources but also willing to experiment with more contemporary styles, or perhaps more importantly because Foxx has never really stopped making music. In the year and a half or so since that first JF and the Maths album was released there has been another album proper and a sort of compilation of outtakes and such like. Sounds like there’s no dearth of material there…
Hiroshima Mon Amour (with Ultravox)
There’s No One Driving
Europe After the Rain
Adult (Foxx and Harold Budd)
Evergreen (John Foxx and the Maths)
Catwalk (John Foxx and the Maths)
Interplay (John Foxx and the Maths) – Video by Jonathan Barnbrook using analogue equipment.
Running Man (John Foxx and the Maths)
And let me throw in this excellent Church cover Hiroshima Mon Amour