It is fair to say the lack of imagination in pop music lyrics of recent years is pretty staggering. When you consider the sheer amount of everyday information we process, the objects we use and see and the natural phenomena we encounter, most pop songs come down to a criteria of subjects you could count on less than five fingers.
Blancmange vocalist Neil Arthur clearly doesn’t think that way. In Shadow, the second album as Fader in collaboration with Benge, he explores darker subtleties than the first. Where 2017’s First Light found Arthur stressing about whether he had locked the front door or not, this one addresses weightier principles in the form of warped dream sequences.
On the first of these, Always Suited Blue, he has a lot on his mind. “You’re not the only one – empty the bin!”, he instructs. It pays off, for later Arthur exclaims he has “found a tenner!” in typically dark, deadpan style. Later in the same song he muses on how “that suit has worn so well, pay attention to the detail – you’ve always suited blue”. The song is a perfect three and a half minute microcosm, complemented by careful and often affectionate shading from Benge’s studio.
“Lately I’ve been sorting shelves in the old shed”, reveals Arthur on What Did It Say. In unimaginative hands this could be a relatively dull tale, but there is a sinister edge to his discoveries. “There is no truth, there are no lies” he proclaims emphatically as the song comes alive, laced with meaningful memories and dark, romantic spirits.
These instrumental touches are the icing on the cake, often a model of restraint in their provision of analogue colour. With so many synthesizers at his disposal it would be easy for Benge to overdo the shading, but that never happens on In Shadow. Quite the contrary, as the delicacies of Whispering and Every Page are beautifully done, conjuring a frisson against Arthur’s haunting vocal. When the keyboards come to the fore, as in the Gary Numan-esque Aspirational, there is still plenty of room for manoeuvre.
Best of all is Mindsweeper, where Arthur explores dual images, capturing the vulnerability of being wide awake in the middle of the night. The warped thoughts reflect the exaggerations that state of insomnia often brings, the commanding vocal and pliant synthesizers speaking as two elements of the same mind.
In Shadow may be more subtle and less immediate than their excellent debut First Light, but if anything Fader have outperformed that record. Once again Neil Arthur and Benge have created a set of vivid portraits of modern life, bringing unexpected gravitas to our chores, trials and tribulations. With strong characterisation and responsive colours they make a great pair, and as such are strongly recommended.