September 7, 2016 Modern English – Take Me to the Trees (Album Review)
Doubtlessly, the release of the much-awaited eighth album of the legendary and seminal Post-Punk/New Wave band Modern English is the proper epitome of many music analysts’ favorite description: “A return to original form.” Indeed, Take Me to the Trees is a completion of a stylistic circle, for it certainly docks back onto the raw, rustic, Gothic, sinister, and tubular bass–driven sound of the English band’s debut album, 1981’s Mesh & Lace. After all, the current Modern English features four of its five founding members: Robbie Grey (vocals), Gary McDowell (guitars), Mick Conroy (bass), and Stephen Walker (keyboards).
Take Me to the Trees opens with the black-lights danceability and Tribal Post-Punk vibe of “You’re Corrupt,” which has a strong sonic connection to the band’s similarly political song “Dance of Devotion,” from Mesh & Lace. Immediately following is “Trees,” the poppiest of the lot, whose vocal melody and guitar strums seem heroically paying reverence to the acknowledged architect of New Wave music, the late David Bowie. It also exudes the sunny rush of “I Melt With You,” albeit in a bit darker direction. “Moonbeam,” which has become a regular on the band’s live setlist in their recent tours, has finally been given the proper studio-recorded status; and it shines through with its delectable mélange of bouncy bassline, icy synthesizer drone, steely guitar angularity, and Grey’s distinctive semi-deadpan vocals. The relatively slow “Something’s Going On” is a change of mood and pace; its subtly spacey, groovy rhythm as well as guitar and keyboard drones are effective in giving the otherwise nostalgic album its Contemporary touch. Certainly a conceptual offshoot from the album’s predecessor, 2010’s Soundtrack, its sparse arrangement also bears a cinematic sensibility that makes it worthy of getting included in the OST of a James Bond movie.
“Dark Cloud” takes the listener to even deeper and somber grounds, reminding the initiated of the same melancholy that he felt the first time he got into the laments of Mesh & Lace’s “Grief.” The ensuing “Sweet Revenge” returns the album to its overall theme of sonic angularity; and despite the song’s being stripped of the New Romantic instrumentation that Modern English fully embraced in their third album, it still exudes a classic aura. With “I Feel Small,” the band seems to be channeling the Rock-to-Pop musicality that they assumed during the smooth transitional period between albums two and three, 1982’s After the Snow and 1984’s Ricochet Days, respectively.
With its wiry guitar melody, high-string bassline, and funereal synth chords, the slow ballad “Come Out of Your Hole” serves as the album’s dramatic highlight. Its cold ambience and sentiments will stand at par with Joy Division’s ominous ballad “Atmosphere.” Then there is the driving, dark, and nostalgic beat of “Flood of Light,” the sonic traits of which make it a default sequel to Mesh & Lace’s “Move in Light.” This will fit well on a playlist of classic ’80s Gothic New Wave songs that bear similar bittersweet emotions, such as Wire Train’s “Last Perfect Thing,” The Bølshøi’s “Books on the Bonfire,” Tones on Tail’s “Christian Says,” The Essence’s “Drifting,” and Lowlife’s “Tongue-Tied and Twisted.” Finally, Modern English wraps up their latest offering with the pulsating grace of the slow Post-Punk ballad “It Don’t Seem Right,” whose gradual buildup of sounds in the end signifies the triumphal return of the band that gave the world a happy sad love song that melted more than a thousand hearts.
If the purpose of Modern English’s founding quartet is to pay homage to their humble beginnings by coming up with an album that can equal or even better the youthful drive and innocent, yet assertive beauty of the Post-Punk debut masterpiece that they released thirty-five years ago, then they succeeded. With due respect to the Pop brilliance of “I Melt With You” and “Hands Across the Sea,” Take Me to the Trees is a reintroduction and reaffirmation of what Modern English’s original musical vision was really about. Look out for the album’s official release date coming soon. That in mind, CrypticRock gives Take Me to the Trees 5 out of 5 stars.