Saturday, January 22, 2011

Daniel Prendiville: Happy Days in the Gulag

Happy Days in the Gulag is the latest release by Northern Ireland artist Daniel Prendiville. The 17 tracks opus contains an overwhelming amount of juxtaposed influences, from both World-Music and Electronica. Particularly 80's avant garde new wave artists such Ultravox and The Human League. The Germanic work of The Thin White Duke and Kraftwerk also comes into consideration. But does it work? More often than not the answer, unfortunately is no.  The songs, repeatedly feel like they may have been cobbled together from samples on free Cd's, from music magazines such as Computer Music and Musictech, and that there has been no attempt to push any synthesizer, beyond its preset capabilities.

Following a seventeen second intro I'll Visit You in Prison is the first track proper on the album. Its a track steeped in 80's synth pop influences, Prendiville's vocal is delivered in a  Phillip Oakey style. The music is pitched somewhere between Gorillaz "Dare" and Human League's "Love Reaction" but fails to capture the glory of either.  Charisma Transplant's meandering spoken-word social commentary is best avoided, as while Prendiville has the verbose vocabulary required to create such poetry, he is unable to engage the listener in a positive manner like John Cooper Clarke for instance.

Lucky Doppelgangers
is the albums highlight to date.  Its a far more believable stab at an Ultravox style track and with a hint of Bowie magic on the chorus refrains, its one of the more memorable moments on the album as a whole.  While a world-music poetry intro, is the only thing that stops Humourlesque from being a chilled out electro winner.  Things continue in this positive vein with ambient offering Sentimental Hospital an instrumental track, in the style perfected by Bowie and Eno on side B of Heroes and Low.

Finally with Oh Mammy Look, the pomp and circumstance has been ditched and Prendiville has delivered a slick, catchy, pop song.  However there is a problem, you can't help but notice that the melody bares more than a passing resemblance to "Smooth Operator" by Sade.  A Simon Gallop style bassline can't prevent Stop-Go Guy being another instantly forgettable stab at 80's electro pop. All previous good work however, unravels instantly, with more tedious spoken-word on the self indulgent Entertaining the Masseuse.

Entertaining the followed by the ambient night terrors of Memory Foam Pillow a completely self indulgent and pointless display of bedroom musicology. And this reviewer is beginning to feel like a cross between Phil Connors and Hans Moleman, and for my troubles, things only get worse, on the truly laughable Me and My Cyberlord. itunes assures us that its post punk but that's frankly, insulting to post punk.

At least Greenland is a song with an assessable theme and hence a purpose for existing.  It essentially apes a Talking Heads style song with an added distorted bassline. Only it lacks the brilliance of David Byrne. Hurray for  Mechanical Imperfect a mini stroke of genius, by comparison to it predecessors. The bass and  guitar playing is good and interact well in a slice of modern gothic rock. Fake Psychedelia continues this upward trend. Its a decent "Virgin Suicides" era Air style, organ led instrumental with funky bass and long hanging chords, with other instruments making neat cameos. WhileTitle Track is a ballad filled with pleasant piano stabs.

Final track Lufthansa Terminal is like a TV theme for a rugged late-night 80's private-eye or cop show, like The Equalizer or The Midnight Caller.  The title is very apt, for anybody that listens to Happy Days in the Gulag as far as Lufthansa Terminal, and I doubt there will be many, will need a long, long, holiday, because it is such an unrewarding, tiresome and joyless listen.

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