John Foxx is in the middle of a period of extraordinary creative zeal. Last year saw the first fruits of his collaboration with The Maths, aka analogue synthesizer wizard Benge, and the two toured as part of a band. Now The Shape Of Things confirms that creative chemistry was not a one off, and that the two musicians spark each other to create some often visionary music.
If anything The Shape Of Things has more going for it than last year’s already fine Interplay. There is a more intense feeling of it being one body of work, through composed as it is with atmospheric interludes to help it along. These provide brief postcard pictures but are also unusually emotional at the same time, with Psytron particularly evocative with its imaginative use of tuned percussion.
Yet inevitably the songs are the stars, and they are up there with some of the best and most personal that Foxx has yet written. Unrecognised is one of the most emotive vocals you will hear him sing – and he really does sing, this time, occupying the higher register to proclaim how “the things we leave behind must remain unrecognised”. September Town and Vapour Trails are strong pieces of work, too, the latter capturing the scope of an early evening sky. Walking Away is more anguished, Foxx here taking a more tortured view of parting, adding another emotion to an already wide ranging album.
There is a strong sense of yearning on Rear-View Mirror, as if the subject is walking or driving away, and as always with Foxx there are references to technology and machines in the narrative, giving Benge the opportunity to respond in kind with some imaginative sonic backdrops, a task to which he responds again and again. There is light humour, too, and the strangely meditative Talk, given out over a minimal bass that the likes of Burial would not baulk at, is about how talk is cheap, and is sung with a half smile.
The two bonus tracks are well worth hearing too, with Matthew Dear‘s remix of Talk atmospheric but finding a hidden toughness. The Shadow Of His Former Self, a collaboration with Tara Busch, hints of things to come in future projects, with the voices intriguingly compatible.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, then, Foxx is a man whose creative touch paper has been well and truly lit in the last two years. The Shape Of Things is an incredibly assured piece of work, machine like in its execution but revealing a soulful, tender exterior that we do not often see from the former Ultravox man. It suits him well – and on this evidence further rewards will soon follow.