It’s been a good five years since Rico – a man who appears not to need a surname – unleashed his Sanctuary Medicines album upon the world and so became “the Scottish Trent Reznor“. Apparently, the Stone Roses style delay is partly down to his intense perfectionism and poring over every musical detail. The result is Violent Silences, and whilst it may not be perfect, it certainly is one of the better albums you’ll hear this year.
Rico’s home of Glasgow was recently determined to be the poorest city in Britain. This air of bleakness and desolation carries over into much of Rico’s trip hop-infused, electro industrial rock. However, it’s evident that the man is also having a bit of a fun on this album, an accusation that couldn’t have been levelled at him after his debut.
The cover version of Talking Heads Psycho Killer is a prime example of the new, occasionally light-hearted Rico. It’s a corker, showing those Pop (Bone) Idle karaoke merchants exactly how cover versions should be by retaining the quirky, poppy spirit of the original, but adding new, vibrant twists through its dark electronica undercurrent, rocking guitar edge and suitably menacing vocal delivery of, “Psycho killer, qu’est-ce que c’est?”
The rest of Violent Silences is similarly versatile. The synth-laden, guitar-heavy Dawn Raid and Freefall may be obvious homages to Nine Inch Nails but there is a plethora of musical textures and levels within each song, with Rico cleverly using whispering, speaking, semi-rapping, singing and aggression to change moods and intensity and to keep the listener guessing.
Elsewhere, Recommended Dose features trip-hop’s prophet of doom, Tricky and, with its roving bass-line, to-the-fore beats, strings and lyrics (“I can’t keep saying yes sir, yes sir, because I’ll wake up dead one day”), is slow, brooding and really quite scary. Whoever called this type of music “darkwave” knew what (s)he was talking about.
The title track is another slowie and illustrates how Rico has got a canny knack for a melody. The chorus of, “Maybe I’m immune… but all I hear are violent silences” is a brain-lodger. Maybe it’s too dark and haunting for our shiny, happy UK radio stations but it should be all over them.
Having said that, Rico did score a Top 20 hit last year with Crazier, although the presence of a certain Gary Numan may have aided and abetted. The version here is a bit of a revamp and the gothic, industrial edge, robotic vocals and big chorus are maximised by whatever studio buttons and knobs Rico has pressed and twiddled.
Kickback is a punky bit of fun with a robotic female vocal. She’s My Punk Rock has the air of early Cure about it (don’t a lot of things these days?). Big Black Sea is an anthemic blast; Garden Man briefly recalls Whale‘s mid-’90s alternative hit Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe with a melody line that fair hammers itself into your consciousness. Manufractured’s moody electronica lives up to its title; while closing track Forward Motion is a mid-paced affair with a late-night vibe, although you’ll probably have nightmares if you go to bed immediately after listening to it.
In summary, Violent Silences is short on weak tracks and long on haunting quality, and cements Rico’s place as Britain’s premier exponent of industrial rock. Of course, we don’t want to have to wait until 2009 for Rico’s next instalment, but at least that will give us plenty of time to truly appreciate every nuance in this musical box of tricks.