❉ Blancmange are back once more, with their third album of 2020!
Lovers of dark, heavy-synth based music with clever, relatable lyrics – this one’s for you! It’s quite possibly the best album that Blancmange have ever released, in my humble opinion. Mindset is an instant hit that you’ll want to replay over and over again… and yes, that includes their classically faultless earlier work of the 1980s. Dark in nature but never too overtly depressing, Neil Arthur has cleverly produced an album worthy of earliest Human League, when they were at their most innovative rather than the chart-fodder they became (and I say that with all love).
Blancmange’s output of recent years has been nothing short of amazing, and they seem to get better and better each time, whichever guise Neil Arthur chooses to present himself with. He’s working harder than he’s done since their resurgence in 2011 and is also touring regularly too (with the obvious exception of lockdown times).
Released on 5th June 2020, Mindset, follows the instrumental, melodic album release Nil by Mouth 2 that was out on 27th March 2020, and Waiting Room Volume 1 – a collection of previously unreleased songs – released earlier in March via Bandcamp. In stark contrast to the instrumental and gently melodic Nil by Mouth 2, Mindset delivers massively on the use of synthesizers and use of relatable lyrics reflecting modern day living.
Opening with the title track and first single release of the album, Mindset packs an electronic punch with its use of drum machines and synths. Arthur’s lyrics “so much for giving, so much for taking” sets the overall tone for the album, reflecting on the general disbelief of ‘how the hell did we come to this’ in the expectant, futuristic times of the 21st Century?
Track two is Warm Reception and is my favourite track on the album. It took me right back to my ’80s, dancing in dimly-lit basement clubs, wearing lace and leather black clothes, impossibly cool boots and losing yourself in the music. It’s heavy synths are undoubtedly influenced by their contemporaries including early Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, and Bowie who is also referenced in the song. It’s a very Bowie-esque song! This track leads very nicely into This is Bliss, in which a relationship which has reached the peak/depths of its potential and is somewhat stale, yet the other partner is appreciating the stability and security of it “you said, this is bliss”.
Antisocial Media is especially stark in an overall dark but eminently pleasing album. Its lyrics refer to the banality and binary/two-facedness of social media; ‘Chastise me, Baptise me, correct me if I’m wrong’ and wittily adding as an almost afterthought, “but not til the end of the song!”. The clever lyrics continue into track 5, Clean Your House which is my second favourite song on the album. This track is about keeping your own house in order and generally taking responsibility for your own actions. The tone of ‘if not you, then who?’, there’s also a threat of consequences for not doing so; ‘you’ll understand me when you’re screaming and you’re kicking’. It’s a great song both lyrically and musically.
The slower speed of Insomniacs Tonight is reflective about when everything seems much bleaker than it is when you’re sleepless and it’s the middle of the night. The music is rhythmic, also lulling you in. The bleakness is transcended into track 7 Sleep with Mannequins which talks of loveless repetitive sexual encounters with strangers in various foreign cities. It’s stark, like the somewhat depressing yet intriguing message behind the song.
Moving swiftly on to another great track on the album is Diagram, where the pace is brought back up a level, thanks to the repetitive drum machine backdrop which cuts through the distinctive melody. It’s an epic, lengthy song of some 6 minutes 30 seconds in duration, but that time is needed to drive the point of the song home and yet it is never laboured or overtly time-consuming. Lyrically, the song is asking to know the transparency of ‘your’ mind. To provide ‘a map, a book, a diagram’ of ‘your’ thought processes to achieve this transparency. It’s another dark one but completely danceable track. I could totally hear Anais of Vile Electrodes singing this song. For fans of this band, this song reminds me very much of ‘Proximity’.
The penultimate track Not Really (Virtual Reality) is a song which continues the overall theme of the album and will get under your skin on first hearing, and leads in contrast to When (which should really be called What) which is a melancholic tune that nostalgically reflects on a relationship of many years standing. “When is anything about what it’s about? For example, when you and I scream and shout”.
Mindset, in short, is a masterclass album of electronica. It’s both nostalgic musically, and 21st Century en pointe lyrically, with its extremely relatable songwriting. In my opinion, their best output in years and I’d give it as many stars as is humanly possible. All killer and no filler… Go listen!
❉ Ange Chan is a regular writer for We Are Cult and has published six volumes of poetry and two novels of contemporary fiction. She is currently also working on a long-standing project of her third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots.