March 6, 2018 Camouflage – Voices & Images 30 Years Later
The dabbling of Depeche Mode into the dark fringes of New Wave/Synthpop, via their 1986 album, Black Celebration, contributed to the flourishing in the late ’80s of what became Dark Wave. Of the bands that followed the gloomy footsteps and cold drumbeats of the influential English group, Camouflage was among the ones that took the influence seriously in its members’ hearts, as if this was a badge of honor. Carrying the flag and leading the troop of musical poets with brokenhearted yet hopeful aspirations, Camouflage endured the change of musical tides over the years and soldiered on, mustering an impressive eight-album sonic armory.
Formed in 1984, in Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany, by the trio of Marcus Meyn (lead vocals), Heiko Maile (synthesizers), and Oliver Kreyssig (synthesizers), Camouflage not only gained commercial popularity but also immediately established their own niche and style as early as their debut album, 1988’s Voices & Images. This now-30-year-old landmark gem further elevated the status of the previously obscure subgenre, and it remains the band’s most progressive work.
Released on March 4, 1988, on Metronome/Atlantic Records, Voices & Images opened with the smooth, metronomic, steely beat of “That Smiling Face,” which despite its lyrically romantic slant, exuded a certain iciness. Starting with a moonlight-conjuring piano prelude, the ensuing melancholic ballad “Helpless Helpless” instantly set Camouflage apart from its heroes. “Neighbours” then entered dramatically with its metallic percussion and slowly transformed into a proper dark Synthpop track, whose timeless sentiment still rings relevant to this day.
The album’s carrier single, “The Great Commandment” was the song that gave away Camouflage’s obvious Depeche Mode influence, owing to Meyn coming across as a deadringer of Dave Gahan and the instrumentation’s similarity with many of the tracks in Black Celebration. However, upon keener inspection, Camouflage’s Gothic inclination was less ominous and more melodious. Displaying the broadness of their musical palette, Camouflage then incorporated Oriental sensibilities in “Winner Takes Nothing,” which might have recalled songs such as “Big in Japan” by Alphaville, “Asia” by The Mo, and “La Femme Chinoise” by Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Another album highlight, the upbeat and subtly syncopated “Strangers’ Thoughts” was as cold and icy yet also sentimental as it could be – like the apathy that it was singing against. The rhythmic beat flowed flawlessly onto the following “From Ay to Bee,” in which Meyn’s use of both his baritone and higher-octave voice gave the track an organic quality.
“Where Has the Child Gone” was rustic and eerie sounding, owing to its music box melody and children’s choral voices that complemented the lyrics effectively. The trumpet-led instrumental “Music for the Ballerinas” might had been overlooked by many, but in retrospect, it was pivotal for Voices & Images, because it gave the album its Progressive/Krautrock personality, making Camouflage more than a typical Synthpop band. The following ornate “I Once Had a Dream” built on the scale of the preceding track, blending elements of Baroque and Synthpop. Near the end of presentation, “They Catch Secrets” returned the listener to the overall sinister, slightly conspiratorial vibe of the album; it would have made a great inclusion to the soundtrack of an espionage-themed movie.
Finally, Camouflage finished off their first oeuvre with “Pompeji” – another cinematic instrumental that could have actually passed as a part of a proper film score.
In the beginning, Camouflage had surely gotten a lot of negative comparisons with Depeche Mode and other pioneering purveyors of Synthpop. However, the German band had eventually quelled all these unwelcomed criticisms. Their discography had disproved all that. In fact, a more-detailed, retrospective reassessment of Voices & Images, which has reached its 30th anniversary, should be enough for the initiated to realize that there is indeed more to the previous assumption that Camouflage was just a doppelganger of some of the much earlier developers of Dark Wave/Synthpop music.