Clan of Xymox
Matters of Mind, Body & Soul
Clan of Xymox are in something of a creative holding pattern right now. The post-millenial releases from Ronny Moorings’ legendary darkwave act have become entangled in a set of unflattering expectations: most CoX albums will feature lovely production, have a couple of decent tunes, and be largely forgettable. While there have been some exceptions (2009’s In Love We Trust is a bright spot to be certain), CoX are sinking in a swamp of their own making. Their records are never out and out bad, they just seem inessential. Matters of Mind, Body & Soul doesn’t buck that trend, and as noted the last time we wrote about them, that seems more damning somehow.
My hope going into this LP was that some of the energy that occasionally buoyed 2012’s covers album Kindred Spirits might carry over to a suite of original tunes. As much as it was the ethereal and atmospheric sounds that made their classic run of 80s LPs so good, it was the move towards gothic rock when they added “Clan of” back to their name in the 90s that yielded the best results of their middle-career. With the exception of the electro-pop of “Your Own Way” (almost a throwback to the Xymox albums in terms of tone and style) however, these songs stick to mid and slower tempos. Clan of Xymox’s songs can thrive at a lower BPM count when they have something to set them apart from the pack, but when so many of these tracks pass by with pleasant instrumentation but a lack of discernible hooks, it makes the whole blur together somewhat. The first vocal track of the record “She’s Falling in Love” does a serviceable job of leveraging Mooring’s ultra-recognizable voice against a plodding drum machine groove and reverbed piano lead, and late entrant “Kiss and Tell” plays out pretty effectively between its snarly guitar and plucky keyboard-driven chorus, but they’re by and large the only standouts from the scrum.
I feel like it would be a lot easier to accept Matters of Mind, Body & Soul for what it is if there was anything outright terrible about it. The fact is that listening to the record, all I hear is a good band playing mediocre songs, albeit well. I want to like the shimmery “I Close My Eyes”, but its small bursts of Peter Hook style bass riffing and Depeche Mode circa Black Celebration breakdown never seem to materialize into anything I can get ahold of. “Love’s on Diet” fares much the same, it’s like there’s a song I want to hear made up of its quirky whale sounds and floaty pads, but it’s hidden away just out of reach. As evidenced by the opening and closing instrumental tracks, there’s a pervasive sense of aimlessness that leaves potentially good musical ideas out in the cold, beholden to overlong arrangements that cram a bunch of motifs together for lack of anything better to do with them.
If it seems like I’m being harsh towards what is in essence a pretty average record, it’s because I like Clan of Xymox, and know they can do much better than Matters of Mind, Body & Soul. Death by a thousand middling cuts is no way for a band as storied as CoX to go out, but we may be approaching a point where the good will of the average fan has been spent. I have a hard time imagining anyone loving this or hating it, or feeling any way about it at all really. It’s just taking up space, and in an age where the listener’s bandwidth is the currency every artist is fighting for, that’s something no record can afford to be.