Camouflage – Voices & Images 30 Years Later

cam slide - Camouflage - Voices & Images 30 Years Later

Camouflage – Voices & Images 30 Years Later

cam - Camouflage - Voices & Images 30 Years LaterThe 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.

voices cover - Camouflage - Voices & Images 30 Years Later

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aLfie vera mella
aLfie vera mella

Born in 1971 in Metro Manila, Philippines, aLfie vera mella immigrated to Canada in 2003. He has since then been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, working fulltime at a health care institution in the city while also serving as the associate contributing editor of a local community newspaper, tackling Literature, Languages, Cultures, Lifestyles, Music, and Genres. Prior to coming to Canada, he was a registered nurse in the Philippines and worked as an editor/writer of academic textbooks and magazines, handling Science & Technology and English Grammar & Literature. He was also the frontman and chief songwriter of an Alternative Rock/New Wave band, Half Life Half Death, releasing an album and a handful of singles. In Canada, he formed another band, haLf man haLf eLf; they are currently working on their first album. In his spare time, he enjoys reading books; listening to music; taking care of his eight-year-old son, Evawwen; participating at various community events; and exploring the diverse cultural beauty of Canada whenever schedule permits him. He has been a music journalist since the mid-’90s for various print magazines and, eventually, websites. He started writing album reviews for CrypticRock in 2015. In 2016, he published Part One (Literature & Languages) of his essay series, Can You Hear the Sound of a Falling Leaf? His next planned literary endeavor is to publish the remaining parts of the anthology and his works on Poetry, Fantasy Fiction, and Mythology.

  • Heiko World
    Posted at 00:57h, 07 March Reply

    They are my favorite band of all time and still make great music. Sadly, the band never toured the States which would have given it an edge of DM. Today’s DM has lost its roots while Camouflage is more faithful to dark wave listeners, the band still has the potential to become big.

  • aLfie vera mella
    aLfie vera mella
    Posted at 02:34h, 07 March Reply

    Heiko World,
    Thanks for your comment.

    And, yes, I agree with you. While I love also the music of Depeche Mode–especially everything till 1997’s ‘Ultra’–I have to agree that the band has long lost their musical roots. Whether it was a conscious decision from the band themselves about their preferred musical direction, I still would have preferred that they remained within the scope of their trademark sound.

    Yes, considering Camouflage’s discography–the German band is more grounded in their style and music. Their latest album, 2015’s ‘Greyscale,’ is a testament of this.

    While we’re at it, here’s my review of that last album by Camouflage.

    aLfie (eLf ideas)

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