Wizened, ageing punks will proclaim their sacrifices were worth it: the spit-covered dancefloors, the chaffing of the metal on bondage pants and irreparable damage caused by using SuperGlue as hair gel was done in a worthy cause: sweeping prog rock from these islands. They might, though, view the rise of [a]The Secret Machines[/a] with some concern: although they might claim to be more Can and Neu than Rush or Steely Dan, everyone knows that ‘krautrock’ is just German for prog. But the Machines have grasped that the zero tolerance of punk for the values of Yes did as much harm as good: what’s wrong with using keyboards to heighten emotions (the Machine’s Brandon Curtis is a right Rick Wakeman, albeit without the stint
on Countdown’s Dictionary Corner… yet); why shouldn’t songwriting be approached as an art?
In fact, [a]The Secret Machines[/a] show how much we
still owe to ancestors supposedly denounced
and abandoned – [a]Spiritualized[/a] fans will feel
at home; title track ‘Now Here Is Nowhere’ wouldn’t disgrace a [a]Stereolab[/a] album, and
‘Sad And Lonely’ sounds like something Elastica would have turned in for ‘The Menace’ if they hadn’t gone off the rails first.
But as anyone who’s tried reigniting old relationships knows, just by going back you’ll have to dig up corpses, and some of them will stink – there are no songs here about Orcs, but it’s no coincidence that the weakest track uses Egyptian imagery. And worse, they’ve embraced the overlong song. Not many tunes can stretch well beyond five minutes, something Simple Machines set out to prove: ‘The Road Leads Where It’s Led’
is a song of two halves; sadly, only the second sounds like a classic.
Brandon and Ben Curtis’ vocals add a lift, providing a choice of a coherent Lou Reed or a pixie-ish Dave Gahan, in itself giving the band a less dated sound (in 1974, lead vocals went to whoever had the pointiest wizard hat). Forgetting the past can be dangerous, but make an exception: set yourself free from fretting about the beards their heroes wore, and you’ll be manning barricades to protect this band should it ever come to a showdown.
Simon Hayes Budgen