If David Bowie is regarded as the High Priest of style for a generation, then surely one of his lay preachers must be Steve Strange and, by default, the eclectic engine that is Visage. Now, some 29 years after their last studio album and on their third incarnation, Visage are back. This time missing the Egan/Ure/Currie line up but still with a nod to the electronic melting pot with Steve Barnacle and Robin Simon (Ultravox/Magazine) to add to Mr Strange’s crew and buoyed by the extra vocals of Lauren Duvall, new album Hearts and Knives shows that Visage are back with a pure synth sound which both references their earlier work but extends it to the new millennium.
The first track from the new album, Never Enough, launches into a Giorgio Moroder inspired baseline riff with a left hook of a chorus which is more than catchy; it’s damned infectious and sounds as though it has been beamed straight from the 80s with hints of The Anvil. This is a hit for the 21st century. Second offering, Shameless Fashion, was released as the teaser to the album and is perhaps more reminiscent of their earlier work with Steve Strange’s almost spoken lyrics à la Fade to Grey. Again a very catchy chorus bridges the distinctive Strange verses and provides perhaps a more spikey edge than the punchily poppy first track. It also provides a good counterpoint to third track She’s Electric (Coming Around) which, after a solid guitar introduction, segues into a more subtle piece with a dreamlike, almost soporific quality. Moving onto fourth track Hidden Sign this initially sounds like a rockier track than you would expect from Visage. More possibly an offering from U2 or Simple Minds it holds a menacing baseline stopping dead in its tracks to take us back into the Visage fold with a wonderful melody carried into yet another very catchy chorus with a soaring question and answer refrain. On We Go is a refreshingly stark and dark tune which would be very at home on a Depeche Mode album and what I would expect to hear from modern electro acts such as Swedish group Hearts of Black Science.
Next track is the soon to be released single Dreamer I Know, another transmission beamed straight from the 80s with a contemporary twist. Starting almost in an eastern style it moves quickly into a more dance driven track which has all the marks of another commercial hit. Lost is Static is track number seven slowing the feel of the album, far more moody and underground in style than previous tracks with a thundering base line beating like a heart with ethereal vocals; this surely is a club hit. Bringing us up from the almost subterranean depth from the previous track, the ecclesiastical start to I Am Watching gives way to another very poppy tune with some very deep lyrics with a catchy background riff with a small guitar solo after each chorus that really works along with faux ending towards the end of the song. Next to last track, Diaries of a Madman, a tale of modern day paranoia is dominated by a behemoth of a massively funky and dirty base guitar with hints of KMFDM in there. Finally we arrive at track number 10, Breathe Life, which starts slowly and almost like a soul-era inspired track but turns into a very uplifting and gentle soul meets electro fusion ending the album on a high note with a final sigh as if to say “There, we’ve done it, we’re back”.
Back indeed they are and whilst some may have been worried about a Visage bereft of earlier members, it could be argued that nobody would dismiss the various incarnations of, say, The Velvet Underground in the same manner. After all, any band is surely judged on the ethos and engagement of sound with audience rather than on the sum of its parts. Rest easy, this album is full of commercial catchiness and Visage fingerprints with perhaps deeper lyrics than previous offerings. It would have been easy to make Fade to Grey Part II but this has not happened here. Some tracks are undeniably carrying original Visage DNA with them but others have expanded on it, tinkered with it with influences such as Moroder, updated it and assimilated new directions without actually giving any of the original Visage sound away. It’s been a long time Mr Strange. Welcome back.
Hearts and Knives Track Listing:
She’s Electric (Coming Around)
On We Go
Dreamer I know
Lost in Static
I am Watching
Diaries of a Madman
Best Track: Never Enough (Lost in Static joint second with Shameless Fashion)
Fast Forward Track: I’ll have to get back to you on that one
Visage will be playing a live show in London on 5 June 2013.
Hearts and Knives is out now. To order your copy or buy tickets for the live show check out their website, Twitter, Facebook or Soundcloud.