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Customer Review

23 of 66 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Streamlined Simplicity, An Exercise In Banality..., September 25, 2011
This review is from: Automatic (MP3 Music)
At this point in what I suppose you could call their 'career', you have to wonder whether the members of VNV Nation are actually engaging in an elaborate Andy Kaufmanesque prank designed to see how many times they can release the same album before people cotton on and lose interest completely.

While the notion that a band can spend an entire career mining variations on a particular sound or theme is perfectly legitimate, when a band continues to rehash exactly the same bland sound and trite, horribly self-involved lyrics (almost verbatim) for period of nine years or so, one begins to wonder whether the title of this album itself isn't in fact a knowing joke by the band concerning both the lack of effort put into its conception and production - although the band would have us believe that they endured something of a rosy crucifixion during the production of this album; it would seem that what didn't kill them made them blander - and the increasing mindlessness, gullibility and lacking critical faculty of certain elements of their audience (although I suppose calling it "Formulaic", "Generic" or "Automatic For The Sheeple" would've been gilding the Lily somewhat - then again, they could well be the titles of the next couple of albums for all I know). Given the lumpen nature of the tracks offered up here, one has to seriously question how much further patience the more critically discerning elements of its audience has.

To break the album down into its component parts:

"On-Air" is the obligatory mood-setting instrumental which, despite mixing analogue radio static, choral synths, and the 'Atomic clock pips' motif from 'Future Perfect', still descends into tedium long before the deeply pedestrian mournful Piano refrain has kicked in (which is no mean feat for a track that lasts just over three minutes).

"Space And Time" is your prototypical jaunty post "Matter And Form" era album opener and recycles so many of the lyrical motifs that have been overused on the last few albums ("let the current carry me", "on open seas", "lost in thought") that the band should surely be line for some sort of Queen's award for recycling by now. It's really only notable for the spectacularly fluffed opening line - "Teeeeear Aaaapaaart" (which, rather amusingly, sounds as if the vocalist has been surprised on the toilet by a sound engineer wielding a microphone and demanding that he sing while at stool) - and the fact that the band inadvertently name-checks Channel 4's 'Grand Designs' ("Bunty and Tarquin have really made the most of Frank Lloyd Wright's theories concerning the use of space and light in their environmentally friendly new build in Cheshire...")

"Resolution" is techno by way of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' on a football terrace. You've heard the band mine this particular seam both musically and lyrically many, many times and, let's face it, it was tedious the first time. Trite sentiment is the order of the day: "Raise your head up high and blow your brains out," to paraphrase 'The Bloodhound Gang'.

"Control" is the obligatory cookie-cutter snarly "blood and anger" track that has popped up with pedestrian regularity on all of the last few releases (see "Entropy", "Testament" et al). Musically and lyrically it fails to convince as a statement of indignation, ambition or intent and the word-association-football lyrics are also inadvertently hysterical (because if photographs are to be believed, certain members of the band have already acquired all the body that one can comfortably enjoy).

"Goodbye 20th Century" is a slim finger-paring of nothing which is about the best thing you can say about it. A blandly grandiose synth limps lazily over the distorted narration from an upbeat fifties propaganda piece/news reel concerning the potential wonders of 'the world of tomorrow'. Get the irony, kids? It seems like every industrial and nu-metal band in the last twenty years has recorded this track; even those masters of the mediocre, 'Linkin Park', have mined this particular seam of banality recently.

"Streamline" is essentially Giorgo Moroder's synth-line from 'I Feel Love' combined with some rather obvious and painfully-rhymed couplets concerning how nice it would be to be live in an art-deco future. A fair enough sentiment, but seeing as this band devoted an entire album to this very topic about ten years ago, one does feel that they're repeating themselves somewhat.

"Gratitude" pulls of the difficult trick of being morose, petulant, self-involved and egocentric at the same time. Musically it's indifferent and lyrically it's little more than a slightly more verbose take on the song 'Thank You' by RnB songstress 'Jamelia'. Listening to it is sort of like being cornered in the pub by a drunkenly emphatic and rather surly divorcee who insists that he's over his marriage (and is so much stronger for it) but who then proceeds to spend the next two hours talking about his ex-wife.

"Nova" sends us back to football terraces. Yes, it may be anthemic and probably the best track from a bad bunch, but it's still utterly generic.

"Photon" is a bargain basement William Orbit knock-off (circa his 'Adagio' album) and sounds like something that would be played over the goal highlights at the end of an edition of British Sports program, 'Grandstand'. I'll be honest I skipped through this one because I was losing the will to live by the mid-way point some three minutes in.

"Radio" is the staple protracted album-closer and in isolation is really indicative of much of what is wrong with the album as a whole: like many of the songs, it is far too long; like many of the songs, its lyrics are trite in their espousal of cookie-cutter pop-psychology platitudes and, like virtually all of the songs, it is just not musically interesting enough to hold one's attention for its duration.

To summarize, I suspect that at this point in their career the audience for VNV Nation is, in a certain regard, now analogous to that of the audience for Michael Bay movies: on the one hand, there are those who are young and naÔve enough to think that a tired collection of gee-whiz sounds or pretty CGI - devoid of any real interest, content or motivation beyond securing a profit margin and maintaining a foot-hold in the market-place - really is the greatest thing since Sliced Bread; and on the other, there are those who gain a perverse sense of enjoyment from going along to see what kind of bland, derivative cr*p is going to be wheeled out this time and how much further the material can descend. I, for my own part, have only ever seen three Michael Bay movies: I paid to see one, the rest I slept through when they were shown on Television; this attitude also neatly encapsulates my feelings towards VNV Nation. Thanks to a combination of friend's copies, Youtube and Last.FM, I haven't had to part with money in order to perform (or rather endure) my cursory one listen-though to each of the albums that they've released since 'Future Perfect', but then there is a certain poetic justice in that, because as more people than I care to mention have observed recently, they haven't actually released a new album since 'Future Perfect'.

Final Report Card For "Automatic":

Ten out of Ten for commitment to the concept of recycling.

One out of Ten for short-changing the audience yet again.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 26, 2011 5:43:08 PM PDT
c5 says:
Regardless of whether I end up entirely agreeing with you about the album, I just wanted to say that I enjoyed reading your review. Although I've found something to like on each of their albums (perhaps less with each one), I'm always hoping that they'll manage to rise again to the level of Empires one day.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2011 12:56:17 AM PDT
DLD says:
Thanks, C5.

I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on the album when you hear it.

Posted on Sep 29, 2011 4:58:45 PM PDT
Jabberjaw says:
I respect your review and time invested. Very interesting take. I grew up in the 1980 listening to new wave (what they called this music back then). My reviews are based on whether I enjoy listening to an album over and over again...and I can say I do with this new VNV Nation album. I've probably played it 10 times already and it doesn't get old. I'm curious what your thoughts are on my other 2 favorite albums out now...Solar Fake and Zynic?

Posted on Oct 6, 2011 7:03:56 PM PDT
As noted prior, it's refreshing to read a well-constructed review. Please indulge opinions on other works. As for me, I've managed to pluck VNV for various efforts to satisfy my tastes. On the whole, however, I do wonder how much actual artistic endeavour permeates their work and how much of it is just pushing a slider up a couple of notches and calling it a job well done. Frontline Assembly lost me on their last album because of what is clearly that very thing. If Bill Leeb DIDN'T phone in his notes he should be ashamed.

Posted on Nov 2, 2011 9:47:10 AM PDT
Your to funny... Thanks for the laugh. I know what your saying overall but a bit exaggerated in my opinion. Calm down. Maybe listen again... Not as recycled as you may have thought after first time around. Its just the way VNV sounds now. Its the best Album of the new VNV sound I think.

Posted on Nov 5, 2011 3:10:08 AM PDT
Bravo, excellent review. Although I dont agree with you, I love your reasoning and willingness to share your view. Tripping over moments of brilliance in my life like your review really restores my faith in humanity. Well done brother. Blessings!!

Posted on Nov 5, 2011 2:33:32 PM PDT
DJ Drln Nki says:
I just want to say that you called it perfectly and it is nice to see that someone else in the scene has the balls to say this album sucks. The obvious "dance floor killer" is Control... I am a DJ and I always listen for that track first time through... I had hope... until the song just went away for nearly a minute and a half... wtf? I usually find a track that speaks to me about something I am going through or have gone through... nope, not on this one. I tell people my two words for this CD are "self indulgent". Not even my 11 year old daughter, a rabid VNV fan since age 4 and regular concert attendee since age 5, could find anything good to say about this CD... "what happened to Ronan mom? he sounds whiny.." She intends to ask him "What the f***?" at the next show... and is looking forward to seeing Straftanz...

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2011 9:54:28 AM PST
Matthew says:
I see they managed to hack into Take 2'S server and steal their design files from the cover of Bioshock!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 9, 2011 9:46:04 AM PST
My daughter is 4 months and I hope she will dig my music like that. That must be cool to have that in common and to go to shows together.

Posted on Feb 21, 2012 8:49:26 PM PST
The review is appreciated. As appears to be the case with many, I loved Empires but haven't been compelled to buy a VNV album since Futureperfect. Sampling the tracks on youtube now before considering for purchase.
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