After breathing new life into Gary Numan‘s oeuvre as producer on last year’s Jagged, Ade Fenton, perhaps more widely known in the dance music world for running two specialist techno labels, has branched out and begun recording his own compositions. Numan returns the favour (Jagged was edgy and very well received) by contributing vocals to four tracks on Fenton’s first solo album, Artificial Perfect.
Artificial Perfect is an album of abrupt twists and turns, punchy beats giving way to elegant piano lines, huge, bombastic arrangements dwindling to spare drum and bass. Songs alternate between adventurous compositions and repetition. The overall sound is harsh, but never thin, rhythmic complexity underpinning the grimy, chunky forcefulness of many of the songs.
Yet there are softer moments too, thanks to Helen Tilley‘s whispery vocals on Everything Changes, the sweetness of her voice belieing the theme of betrayal, and Burn (certainly not a gentle song either). Tilley seems to have appeared out of nowhere – Fenton describes her in one interview as a friend, but she seems to have no track record previous to this.
Artificial Perfect opens with The Leather Sea, an anthemic tune built from jerky drum machines and metallic sounds, perfectly matched by Numan’s sharp vocals; no longer affecting the cold tones of a robotic, his singing will nonetheless always have a harsh strength about it perfectly suited to the nihilistic message: “Your God is nowhere, your God is nothing.”
We’re clearly in Nine Inch Nails territory here, but with an almost playful attitude to overlapping sounds and then suddenly stripping everything out to really bring forward the vocal. The second Numan song, Healing, is much more complex, layer upon layer of sound creating a dark, swirling mass of sound.
Grinding techno motifs and sparky piano melodies give all the different aspects of the album a central aural theme, and it ends in a glorious blast of hissed vocals, rocking guitar, electronic bleeps and pounding beats which build into a hypnotic loop on Machine. It’s not a long album, and leaves you wishing for more, definitely one to return to again and again.