COUNTERCULTURE (Oktober Productions)
~review by Mick Mercer
I’ve said it before, so I’ll be a repetitive old bastard and say again that I like Action Directe and their Attitude, which circles aloft among the ricocheting racket they call their musical home. Not for them the soft option, not for them the languid sentimentality of Goth’s tradition, or the obscure faux intelligence of Industrial. They have a political agenda, and they shake it in your face like a mandrill with piles.
Apparently this second album (I blame the press release) is conclusive proof of more melodic and compositional strength, and that the result is Goth being pushed cunningly towards the mainstream. Brave sentiments indeed, but not actually true. It does have a strong commercial curvature, usually ripped apart by the unnecessarily bellicose vocal style, and as nobody would see this as Goth the second point is irrelevant. This is surely seen by most as an Industrial offshoot? Too bold for electro shite, too orthodox for Industrial purists and too damn political for Goth, which places it nearer Indie territory.
But, to the record. You get the mournful Twin Peaksy opener, ‘Kul’turnost’ out of the way and you’re into a dazzling ‘Playing With Monsters.’ Ignore its second part later, which is pointless arty noise, and this first half is fantastic. The samples are sandwiched between layers of sound, which is a good idea. (Why bands fail to recognise that no-one takes a blind bit of notice of their samples, or that these clever spoken passages are a plain irritant after a while, escapes me.) The synth creates shapes for the truly excellent vocals to hang on, and they produce a moving an inspirational song. Okay, it is actually ‘Do They Know It’s Xmas?’ but we’ll pretend we didn’t notice.
‘Zealots’ has nippy guitar and tight beats closing like rabid jaws on the silky synth, which can fight back. The power isn’t so trenchant this time around, that much is obvious, and the vocals are more involving. The electro chatter of ‘Dissident’ isn’t great but it genuinely feels for opportunities to attack, which is why they’re head and shoulders, like an old Russian propaganda poster, above average ebm and electro outfits, because this bunch stand for something. You won’t see them slinking out to vote for UK Independence party. To them Europe in its entirety is a land rich in disposed peasantry, who need these songs to brighten their otherwise spotty faces. Of course play ‘Plastic Fatherland’ to anyone abroad and they’d probably say, ‘Ah yes, twerp-like students used to play moogs thirty years ago too, and they sounded shit then!’ Play them ‘Europe Is My Homeland’ and they’d ask, ‘what’s with the folk rubbish, are you some Lord Of The Rings re-enactment society?’ Ah, you just can’t win. ‘Compatriot Games’ would win them over though. It’s bleepy, but it’s ugly.
‘Oktober’ sees a flea circus take over the circuitry, cutely twitching throughout, and ‘Cossack’ is a bustling beast which I hoped would keep on growing ever more unruly, but they stepped back from the abyss and fiddled about a bit. ‘Hinterland’ has some very pretty moments, which is something they could more of, utilising their lyrical strengths to deliver blows with words as much as their rasping delivery which is holding them back.
The title track holds back from a dance outbreak hazily sweeping along, and they manage to be not quite hard enough with ‘Imperious Minds’ where the rhythm struggles for fluidity, and ‘Nemesis’ is twee but bleeds beautifully.
The end result is a positively puking spectacular overall, and the only real problem is this. They clearly know they’ve got good musical vision, and the singer is aware of how to unload melodically. If they don’t want to get too conventional on the grounds their credibility might be impinged upon that’s total bollocks. The music mainly comes from machines which can caress or curse, and the voice should do whatever is necessary to put their message over best, and sounding like a demented drunk isn’t always the most coherent method. With clever ideas to put across their attitude is what saves them and Attitude will work however they choose to convey it, as these songs can testify. They hang together on different gradients around a giant angry mountain made out of individual emotive molehills.
Viva their resolution.