Robert Marlow / X-Lover / Impulse 9

Upstairs at The Garage, London - 28 June, 2003

"All the hits and more!"

[X-Lover look the part but...] Impulse 9 are an all too-familiar digital two-piece that mixed industrial with goth resulting in predictable lyrics like "The power in my veins, The buzzing in my brain". The thud, thud drum programming, keyboards and simplistic guitar combination only rarely brought anything new to the genre. Most notably on a so-called 'ballad' and the track Image (despite a faltering backing CD). Occasionaly great bleeping sequencers and some good melodies were the stand-out features. The bland live guitar added absolutely nothing - either audibly or visually. With a former Chaos Engine member, it's possible that Impulse 9 might develop into something worth a second look, but I won't be watching with any interest.

In a stylistic contrast, X-Lover are sub Ju Ju Babies electroclash. Lots of mid-tempo retro influenced sounds with droll female vocals on top. Although the live percussion sounded great, this was more dull than droll, especially the lead vocalist who thought that she had attitude when she had none. The bassist looked the part, indeed the whole band looked the part, but it should come as no surprise that a movement based as much on style as sound has generated more waanabes using the fashion bandwagon as nothing more than an excuse to get their faces out there. Like all too much electroclash - too much style over substance for my tastes.

[Robert Marlow returns] Robert Marlow was the reason I came along tonight. Like the Erasure gig earlier this year, this was something of a nostalgic trip for me having been a fan of Marlow when he released his handful of singles on Vince Clarke's short-lived Reset label in the early 80s. Like all such excursions, this could have been either a joy or a major disappointment. I'm glad to say it was certainly the former. Combining seasoned professionalism with an irrepressible sense of fun (and perspective), Marlow proved that even more than a decade on, his songwriting has easily stood the test of time. That's not to say that to today's jaded ears, Marlow doesn't sound somewhat twee and lightweight, but that was always part of the plan.

There was almost a guilty fun to be had and this was easy with the show that was staged. Flanked by synchronised dancers doing boyband dance routines and backing vocals, Robert Marlow himself proved that his impressive voice had lost none of its strength nor distinctiveness in the intervening years. By the time the classic The Face of Dorian Grey was performed I had a broad grin across my face and a good feeling inside. Having released his debut album (written at the time of the original 80s singles!) on Energy Records last year, and with new material currently being written and more live dates across Europe planned, Marlow brings a welcome sense of light relief back to the scene. A man with talent that doesn't take himself seriously is a rare thing in music these days and for that reason alone it's a pleasure to say that Robert Marlow is back.

Rob Dyer