tue 13/04/2021

CD: Blancmange - Nil By Mouth | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Blancmange - Nil By Mouth

CD: Blancmange - Nil By Mouth

Unexpected instrumental interlude from low-profile 1980s electro-pop act

A starvation diet of visual punning and synthesizers

One of the anomalies of the early 1980s synth-pop boom was how few bands there actually were. Most scenes that blow up have the main faces and a plethora of lesser acts with lesser hits. There were a few one-hit wonders and vanguard acts – Landscape, John Foxx, Yello etc. – but not really very many. The bottom line was the Human League, Gary Numan, OMD, Soft Cell and Depeche Mode.

One of the anomalies of the early 1980s synth-pop boom was how few bands there actually were. Most scenes that blow up have the main faces and a plethora of lesser acts with lesser hits. There were a few one-hit wonders and vanguard acts – Landscape, John Foxx, Yello etc. – but not really very many. The bottom line was the Human League, Gary Numan, OMD, Soft Cell and Depeche Mode. There was only one band who ran alongside that electro-gold quintet, mustering low-level hits and even three that crept into the outer reaches of the Top 10: Blancmange.

Somehow the duo of Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe never quite gathered the following of their peers, although their ideas and imagery were often intriguing, especially when they dabbled in Indian mysticism and music. They came back with a couple of 21st-century sequels to their original three Eighties albums, but never caught a wave like, say, Heaven 17, who still successfully tour on a regular basis. These days, Blancmange is a Neil Arthur solo project, and he's now returned to his roots. Nil By Mouth consists of 12 instrumentals that hark back to his band’s earliest days, when they composed soundtracks to arty student films.

The results are more entertaining and gripping than Blancmange’s last "proper" album. It’s not essential fare, but it does put a smile on the face. There’s twinkly Velvets-go-synth sparkle on opener “Eleanor”, kitschy easy listening on “Cistern”, Numan-esque electro on “Gone”, buzzing wonk-pop on “The Son”, and squelchy dub frolicking on the concluding “Close Encounters”. Clearly Arthur has been having real fun playing with his toys, and that comes across in the music. While his output is not going to reignite Blancmange’s career, it’s worth a listen for synth festishists and those who enjoy sprightly oddities for late-night amusement.

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