Recoil Subhuman

[Mute; 2007]

Styles: electro-blues, cinematic electronics
Others: Depeche Mode, Massive Attack, Outcast

Subhuman is an extension of the blues influence that has dotted Alan Wilder's history as Recoil, paired with the structuring and cinematic gravitas that have been his hallmark since involvement with Depeche Mode in the '80s and '90s. On this outing, however, what has thematically infiltrated his work as Recoil as early as Electro Blues for Bukka White now takes center stage through the vocals and guitar of Joe Richardson. Why, then, does Subhuman end up feeling so empty?

The problem is the overwhelming sense that this methodology is so painstakingly contrived for effect that any strength it might have actually possessed becomes an irrelevant afterthought. Previous recordings in Wilder's canon have benefited from his precise orchestration of events, but on Subhuman, these assemblages compromise the end result by overreaching, resulting in little more than a presentation of broad gesture social injustices coming to a theater near you, a beautiful yet ultimately unmemorable soundtrack.

There are passages on the record that are convincingly inspired, such as on "5000 Years," where the latter half of the fourth minute evolves into a sequencing of politically arched samples and Arabic elements immersed in the uneasiness of wartime atmospherics. It is an outworn tactic, granted, but it does at the very least come across effectively. The intro and outro segments to the main body of "The Killing Ground" are equally impressive in arrangement, successfully conveying the weight of intent implied by title and Joe Richardson's lyric.

"Allelujah" is relatively successful with Carla Trevaskis' vocal drifting in and out of an ominously sensual backdrop, harking back to Songs of Faith and Devotion-era Depeche Mode. "Intruders," however, is the most wholly rewarding and substantial achievement on the album. Thoroughly haunting in execution, with Trevaskis' sensual wavering underlined by Richardson's gravel throated vocals cast against one of Wilder's stronger compositions on offer, it betrays the overt crafting of the greater sum of the record and breathes more freely.

It is hard to take a stance against the work of someone as accomplished and admirable as Wilder. It also should be noted that the skill and technical prowess of the musicians is not in question. In fact, with so much to offer within the suggestive and oftentimes confrontational lyrics, it should have rightly been Wilder's magnum opus. Amid the grand overproduction, however, the message lost its voice and became ironically muddled due to too much refinement. Subhuman is by no means an unpleasant experience, but it fails to engage effectively and leaves the listener with very little in the end.

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