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Any Minute Now
espite tours with LCD Soundsystem and the sky-high cred afforded them recently, Soulwax were never been hip in their original incarnation. What could be less appealing to trend-followers than a Belgian rock band that writes unashamedly catchy songs with big hooks and ingratiating pop riffs and once released a single with one-hit-wonder Tracey Bonham? But with a nearly 6-year gap between albums, it would make sense that the band had moved on, especially in light of their ascension toward the top of bootleg culture.
But they haven’t. Any Minute Now is an almost bloody-minded, determined regression rather than a step forward, both sonically and in songwriting. The abrasive pop charge of the battering guitars recalls not their unsung Much Against Everyone’s Advice but their largely unheard outside of Belgium debut, Leave The Story Untold, and, the real Achilles’ heel is that it’s wed to a selection of songs that just isn’t as strong as the last batch.
“E-Talking” is a promising enough opening, but you could be forgiven for thinking its stomping hook and even its lyrical theme—“It’s not you, it’s the E-talking closing in on the translation” is a bit derivative of their breakthrough single “Conversation Intercom”. That said, the claustrophobic synths and Stephen Dewaele’s ooh-ooh-oohs, almost Michael Jackson-esque, make it good enough to stand as a successor rather than a bland imitation. “Slowdance” takes the same structure and trades urgency for a more fully-realised melodic structure, and as far as templates go, it proves surprisingly sturdy and reliable, though not quite enough to make the album’s last track, an ambient, eerie reprise called “Dance2slow”, anything more than a one-listen curiosity.
Things move into more problematic territory on the title track, whose similarity to last album’s “Much Against Everyone’s Advice” in texture borders on suspicious. “Please Don’t Be Yourself” is more promising, bringing spacey keyboards and almost mumbled vocals to great, almost hypnotic effect. It’s still not what you’d describe as catchy.
The much-touted “NY Excuse” is present in slightly edited form, and presents a much-needed change in direction, although its simplicity and repetition betray the fact that the song really was conceived as an excuse to have the record company pay to have them stay in New York for a few extra days. Its LCD Soundsystem roots are clear, as are its club intentions, and while the choice of including this over a more Soulwax-sounding rock version may raise eyebrows, it makes sense, as “Excuse” leads into the album’s most infectious track.
The track in question, “Miserable Girl”, is the point at which the promise of rock music that sounds a bit like dance music is fully realised, and the Belgian’s previously uncanny turn of phrase makes a long-overdue comeback—“You’re just a miserable girl trapped in a healthy body. You’re such a Catholic girl trapped in a guilty body” being one of the few lyrics that jumps out for reasons other than sheer force of repetition. The screeching guitars, playful melody and pumping bass don’t hurt either.
The one truly unforgivable misstep is the self-cannibalisation “A Ballad To Forget”, which recalls the infinitely superior “When Logics Die” from Much Against but in this case, worryingly seems to have been crossed with “Imagine” as well. Along with the similarly-short “Krack”, it’s more of an intermission, one sonic idea stretched too far.
Any Minute Now is an easy album to like, but a rather difficult one to love, because the flashes of genuine inspiration and cleverness are so few and far between compared to previous work. While the retreat back to styles and song types that have worked well in the past might satisfy new fans that missed out the first time around, its already-earned critical reputation as a pale Xerox of past glories seems unkind but is sadly fair. Those new fans would be better off picking up Much Against Everyone's Advice second-hand or wait for the remixes on the singles to give them what they're really waiting for.
Reviewed by: Edward Oculicz
Reviewed on: 2004-09-01
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