'Down the rabbit hole' wrote Thomas Thielen (t) and Dominik Hutterman on the opening line of This Dream Of Me, the opening track on Leave, and down the rabbit hole we go in more ways than one. Not just the Alice in Wonderland dreamscape which permeates the third release, and the first in nearly twenty years from the German duo, but the rabbit hole of synth driven late twentieth century progressive pop music. Even the humorous press release claims that this is the album Steven Wilson should have made, and to an extent, it's truer to the orchestral, swirling synthesiser sound and portentous vocals of The Associates and their more commercial Celtic cousins Simple Minds, than To The Bone. But let's avoid that particular warren. In the era referenced by Clouds Can, ambitious musicians could not afford the luxury of spending 6 months loitering around a studio arguing over the next key change, or recording cockroaches in the rain forest. They had to find a way to invoke the spirit of pure rock and pop to keep the executives happy and learn how to fly anything representing ambition or art under the radar, and that went for Yes, Genesis and ELP as much as Depeche Mode. Welcome to the world of Talk Talk, The The and Japan.
It's the under the radar stuff that predominates on Leave. That's not to say there isn't a joyous pop-tinged sheen to it, but, music fans, don't think that means commercial, it's still not childish enough to get the attention of the programmers on UK National Radio, much as the aforementioned opening track, a surging operatic roller-coaster ride would go down a treat at any Blitz revival night. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Beyond this album's more immediate pleasures, however lies a multi-textured brilliance, that repays relistening, Like Any Angel opens with an atmospheric soundscape, synth and guitar intertwined before resolving into a theme that builds to a sonically charged climax, cut off in its prime. Elsewhere there is nostalgia in the music too, while form and content beautifully align, evoking the sadness of a relationship fading like last night's party balloons. Dark humour flashes through The Day You Leave as tenderness becomes humorous obsession and then twists into something decidedly less amusing. Insomnia introduces a Pixies bass line which mutates into a thrashing metal riff, overlain with screaming guitar work. In moments of lucidity dreams or the lack of them predominate again in the painfully searching self-analysis of the early hours.
The band claim to have left 1000s minutes on the cutting room floor, but then they also claim their intention was to produce an album of short, easy on the ear singles. Just as this is not an album for breakfast show radio, it is difficult to know what they could have left out as the musical ideas flow thick and fast and the lyrics match the iridescent themes.
The point of a genre in composition is not to replicate its rules, but to take its conventions as a spur to new creativity, in the way that jazz musicians battle each other for the best improvisation on a theme. Clouds Can have taken the conventions of a generation and woven them into an album of spellbinding texture and shimmering production. Go down that rabbit hole? I don't mind if I do.
**** Andrew Cottrell
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