It’s almost inconceivable that the band you hear on Begin Again is the same one that released Move Forward half a decade ago. Then again, Kloq isn’t the same project it was when that well-regarded slice of techno-EBM was released, programmer and producer Oz Morsley of Empirion fame having recruited a trio of supplementary musicians to record the sophomore album. The results are, to put it kindly, not good. While Morsley’s work has generally displayed a strong grasp of how to bend the sometimes esoteric world of electronics into popular forms – the guiding principle of the big beat movement his work with Empirion is often lumped in with – his efforts to transform a middling four-piece into an electro-rock juggernaut fall far too short.
It’s important to note when listening to Begin Again that the dominant sound of the project’s debut is nowhere to be found. Whereas songs from that era like “I Never Said” and the Douglas McCarthy fronted-single “We’re Just Physical” had a healthy dose of rock styled grooves in their DNA but were still firmly planted in electronics, the sophomore LP flips the script, putting the rock way out in front and letting the electronics play a support role. It’s a reversal that could have worked, except that these songs just aren’t catchy or fun. The impression really is that a some studio guns wrote a collection of bar-band-quality songs and then tried to gussy them up with heavy production and some synth programming. It’s like pouring gravy on a rice cake; no one is gonna mistake it for a turkey dinner no matter how good the dressing is, and no one is gonna enjoy these dated-sounding servings of milktoast for decent songs no matter how well-performed and tweaked in the studio they are.
Which is it really: most of these tracks aren’t offensively bad so much as they are totally bland and hookless. “High” shoots for the soaring heights of the crossover anthems late-period Pendulum had down pat but ends up coasting on the runway with an underwhelming verse and some very insincere sounding crooning from singer Dean Goodwin. Similarly, the title track desperately wants to be an epic closer but I can’t shake off the impression Kloq are regurgitating “inspirational” pop tropes by ear without any discernible emotion. They’re not bad because they’re incompetent, just the opposite: they’re performed ultra-professionally but with zero feeling. They’re still a damn sight better than the two rap-infused numbers “Crash” and “Jenny” though, the latter featuring a couplet so brain-dead (“And when you shake that ass/You turn me on so bad/I wanna take a chance/Baby it’s in your hands”) a Juggalo might turn their nose up in disgust. They’re insultingly poor, and one has to question how out of touch and/or cynical you would have to be to think anyone would be moved by adding a 3rd rate take on Mixalot’s “Baby Got Back” flow to an otherwise unremarkable rock song.
While it’d be a stretch to call them redeeming, I will admit that opener “True Crusader” and the slower “Setting Sun” aren’t awful. They’re one of the few spots where Morsley’s programming is allowed to shine, and serve as an indicator of what he’s still capable of when he isn’t saddled with uninspired rock n’ roll posturing. Truth be told they’re not particularly great (and any goodwill they might have threatened to generate is washed away by the wannabe funk of numbers like “Chainsaw”), if anything they’re a reminder of what this Oz could be doing instead of this humdrum twaddle. Begin Again is by turns boring and exasperating, an example of the right tools being used in the absolutely wrong way. Strong recommendation to avoid.