Naked Lunch

[Beyond Planets sleeve]"Beyond Planets" (Album, 2014)  !Recommended!

Sub Culture Records

Few debut albums are 30 years in the gestation. Fewer still worth waiting that long for. Naked Lunch's Beyond Planets is worth the wait. 

The world clearly needs more early 80s anarchists with synths creating relevant and compelling music. That the original line-up of the band essentially remains in place in 2014, some 36 years after they formed, is crucial. The culmination and distillation of literally decades of inventive experiments, imaginative ideas, turbulent relationships all finally wrestling themselves free of the constraints of such mediocre issues as human frailties, turned instead by human ingenuity into rare musical creativity. Anyone who has been following the band since their reformation in 2012 will know much of the material contained on Beyond Planets, as it is a combination of re-recorded old singles as well as new compositions. Perhaps surprisingly to some, the re-recordings are largely a success. 

The tactful approach of a deliberately minimalist production style means much of the distinctive character of those previously released, including the classic La Femme, remains intact. All are sympathetic yet still valid re-workings. There was unfinished business at the end of that series of early singles. At the time, the arrogance of youth squandered the interest of no less than three major record labels, and the band promptly imploded. By including the old material, this album is a fitting and worthy summation, and distorted reflection, of that period. 

Bringing things bang up to date, the depth to the cinematic soundscape on Alone proves that whilst they are not living in the past, thematically and lyrically there's something unshakingly retro British SF (almost Nigel Kneale inspired) about their writing. Of the newer material nothing else thrills quite like the gloriously ambitious opener We Are. Clocking in a just under eight minutes, which fly by in half that time, this is bold and confidently so. Musically grand in scale and lyrically provocative, if this is representative of more, purely original songwriting to come then, I for one cannot wait. In the meantime, Beyond Planets proves there is plenty to be excited by the return of the mighty Naked Lunch.  8/10

Rob Dyer (March 2013)

[Slipping Again, Again sleeve]"Slipping Again, Again" (Single, 2013)

Evolve or Die

Punchy production sees this second single from the newly re-energised Naked Lunch up and running in no time at all. As a collective of musicians they blend together perfectly. No mean feat given that they began, and then promptly stopped, their unconventional musical journey 30 years ago, then reconvened just last year. I cannot think of another band that sound quite like Naked Lunch do. Each of their repeating major components (synths, guitars, drums and vocals) has a recognisable style that is distinctive in its own right but, when brought together under the compositional banner of being a Naked Lunch song, a magical alchemy happens and we enter a whole new dimension. 

This single is a kind of re-interpretation of (or perhaps a sequel to) a b-side, Slipping Again, from their debut single Rabies in 1981. I love the synth sounds (plenty of old analogue equipment at play, indelible bass lines), love the percussion and drums (quality retro sounds, not sounding dated) and the lone guitar (unhinged rather than posturing). Then there's Tony Mayo's voice. Here, he has chosen to go for a growling approach. Personally, I preferred the more conventionally sung style of the original and when they performed it at their return gig at the BAS II festival last year. This is a minor quibble and doesn't stop me pressing repeat... repeatedly. The overall effect is impressive and only serves to heighten the anticipation for that long-time-coming first album. 7/10

Rob Dyer (November 2013)

[Alone sleeve]"Alone" (Single, 2013)

Evolve or Die

This digital single is the first official release of new material written by the band since they reformed after 30 years in the wilderness, the line-up now including four of the original five members. Remarkably, in many respects, it's almost as if it were only a couple of months between Alone and their previous single Make Believe/Breathe - released in 1984, and it continues the band's aim of releasing singles that sound nothing like a previous single. A challenge to be sure but an admirable one to set yourself - and they've pulled it off. 

The post punk/minimal synth musical language of Naked Lunch often conjures up images of bleak, wind-swept, post apocalyptic landscapes, and the opening seconds of Alone only serve to re-enforce that. The accompanying video draws inspiration from the lyrics, creating a blend of expressionist silent German cinema and Lars Von Trier's creepy hospital TV thriller The Kingdom. It is the ideal accompaniment. "Am I real, or is it just a dream?" asks lead vocalist Tony Mayo in what is one of his most unhinged performances to date. Largely spoken, the philosophical lyrics are delivered in part through schizophrenic gritted teeth, and partly on the edge of hysteria. The mood is alleviated slightly with some hauntingly whispered female backing vocals by newcomer to the band Jet Noir (who's album Emotional Chess we reviewed earlier this year). 

The atmosphere created by the deliberately-paced percussion, chilling synths and Gothic guitars plays like a Lovecraftian story, beginning with what sounds like the mists parting to reveal a ravaged earth and closing (in a satisfyingly circular manner) with Noir citing from what could be the Necronomicon (perhaps summoning the Old Ones?) as the wind howls and the mists once again envelops our protagonists. No-one else really sounds like Naked Lunch do. The tone is beautifully judged with all the major musical factors each having its own clarity (thanks in part to some terrific production work); and as a teaser for their first ever album, due for release later this year, one couldn't ask for more. 8/10

Rob Dyer (August 2013)