And Shun the Cure They Most Desire
Metropolis/Out of Line
There’s a pretty ballsy fake out at the beginning of the new Pankow album, one that sets up and confounds a lot of expectations simultaneously. Immediately following the choral intro “Great Minds Against Themselves Conspire” (a lift from English composer Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas) is “Dirty Old Men”, a loagy electro number topped with a ridiculously theatrical performance from vocalist Alex Spalck as one of the titular “rusty old crackers”. It’s a weird song to be certain, and whether it’s intended to poke fun at questions of the band’s relevance some 34 years after their formation or just Pankow being, well, Pankow, it’s not overly representative of the record as a whole. And counter-intuitively that somehow makes it really representative of the band, an ever-evolving unit who have never been beholden to what you or I might think they’re about musically.
Recorded between 2006 and 2012, And Shun the Cure they Most Desire, can be surprisingly straightforward at times. Several songs bounce along at medium tempo on programmed drums and analogue and FM synths without much embellishment, with Spalck alternating vocal duties with new member Bram Declercq. Songs like “Crash and Burn” and the amazing slowburner “Don’t Follow” could easily slot into the club sets of all but the least adventurous DJs, and once you get accustomed to the warbly bassline and vocal processing of “Regeneration Degeneration” there’s nothing too leftfield in its construction. When one of your primary characteristics is being unpredictable, the absence of deviation takes on a bizarre character of its own, idiosyncrasy achieved in reverse.
It’s not like there isn’t some weirdness to be found though, far from it in fact. “Radikal” plays the middle ground between Laibach’s straightfaced irony and Pankow’s own brand of social satire with bombastic sustained chords over marching drums, and the Snog-esque spaghetti western touches on a closing remix of “Mortality” (a far more synthy version of which appears earlier on) recall the oddball shifts in tone and orchestration of Pankow’s classic era. “Suffocate” sounds like it might have started life as something more direct before being slowed and digitally twisted into a shambling swamp monster of a song. These less constant tracks weave their way through the album, never letting any one sound or groove take precedence over another for very long. Pankow have never really been know to make albums that just recycle the same ideas over and over, and I suppose this falls into that tradition handily.
Of course a doctrine of capriciousness is a hard idea to actually pin down once you start thinking about it, and I don’t think it’s any accident that And Shun the Cure they Most Desire beggars the question of how you can be dependable and contrarily mercurial. From the inclusion of a second disc of alternate versions of contemporary and classic songs from their catalogue by band member Maurizio Fasolo and an unlikely line-up of remixers (Rabia Sorda? Ritualz? Tying Tiffany?) it’s fairly clear that Pankow are willing to approach their own legacy with a sense of whimsy. Is it a cash in? A statement on the mutability of history? A sign that they don’t see themselves as part of some precious and immutable canon of alternative electronic music? Like many of the grand old eccentrics of industrial, Pankow have the knack of making us pose questions. The answers are up to us. Recommended.