"Those Nervous Surgeons" (Album, 2014) !Recommended!
This first album in 17 years from British electropunkers Click Click is stunningly good. Originally envisaged as 'industrial psychedelia' what has transpired is something more primal, more visceral, but probably more powerful as a consequence.
Still driven by original and founding members, brothers Adrian and Derek E. Smith, there was talk after this was released that this could be their final bow for original material. For the sake of sanity let's hope not.
Taking it's title from a pre-Click Click incarnation as a rock band, it's a thrill listening to music that has something to say, with maturity, but retains a sense of urgency, even aggression. It's political (and this is where maturity works as a distinct asset), jabbing sneeringly, but its recognition of everyday reality doesn't temper their condemnation. Whilst it's true that the lyrics and anger in some songs could date from the era of Thatcher and Reagan (and the sense of imminent threat of nuclear war), this is far from being a wall-to-wall collection of diatribes. Instead, Those Nervous Surgeons offers up far more range both lyrically and musically.
A haunting, desolate air pervades. The brooding opening instrumental Passenger could almost be an unreleased piece from John Carpenter's score to his own soundtrack to Escape From New York and establishes a high bar. The style switches, steps up a gear, as Man In A Suit establishes the other side to this album – a swaggering, nonchalantly cool song with snarling vocals that are Click Click's trademark. It's as much what's left out as what's included that makes this songwriting so damn good. Allowing it to run over six minutes, there's plenty of space in the arrangement for bridges and breaks; and in those spaces distant shimmering synth strings reminding us which universe we're still in.
Rats In My Bed is what SPK might have sounded like had 80's bombastic producer Zeus B Held got his hands on them. The proto-analogue bass synth sequencer and ticking percussion is the train driving this towards Dive territory.
It's What Do You Want? that encompasses the essence of this album. Its biting lyrics the most explicit slap in the face to the sleepwalking masses: “What do you want? What do you need? What have you learned? What have you seen? Desensitised, you're watching Sky. The anchorman is spinning lies. American born, American town. Your flags are false, tear them down. New legislation, control and fear. All seeing eye, sees everywhere. Free pussy riot, shut down the Bay. Outlaw the drones strikes, Don't let them pray. You're not a victim, you have a voice. Open your eyes, you have a choice.” It the kind of stuff that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Like desensitised sheep we capitulate and suck it up – that's what the system wants. What Click Click want is to peel back the veneer of freedom and expose the truth but, more importantly, make us understand that we have the choice and thereby the power to change things. As Ghandi so eloquently put it, we need “To be the change we want to see in the world”. The song ends by repeating the question: “What do you want?” - over and over. It's a bit like Kevin McCarthy at the end of The Invasion of The Body Snatchers when he breaks the fourth wall, screaming into the camera and viewing audience: “You're next!”. We are no longer passive listeners and observers, we are part of the narrative... and the solution.
The percussion-less instrumental The Warminster Detective is placed directly after the most overt call to action, providing much needed breathing and recovery space – albeit a mournful one and, for me, a highlight of the album. Burn starts to pick up the pace again. Again, there's an intricate richness to both the composition and the arrangement which, when combined with the attitude of delivery and attention to production detail, elevates Those Nervous Surgeons above most of the other noise out there.
Drone somehow reminds me of Rabies by Naked Lunch, and could itself almost be a re-recorded track from 1980, only it isn't. Keep Us Out Of The Way draws inspiration from American researcher Neil Sargisian and his comment that brings things to a satisfying conclusion by plaintively crying: “Why do they listen to nothing we say?”. It ends with a sample of Sargisian's original quote – which is worth repeating here: “The powers that be... use the media to entertain people with issues that don't really matter. When you have the big news networks covering celebrity issues as if it is the most important thing, it becomes the most important thing. And this is not by accident, this is to keep us out of the way.”
There's just ten tracks on Those Nervous Surgeons and yet so nuanced, so thought-provoking, so immersive is the journey through it that the experience touches something deep inside. That, combined with the astonishing production, results in one of the most intellectually satisfying and musically rewarding albums I have heard in years. 9/10
Rob Dyer (January 2016)