For the final Fad Gadget album, Frank Tovey went to Berlin, home of touring mates Einstürzende Neubauten, and once again sought to expand the sound beyond the synth domination of prior releases. Unsurprisingly, the result incorporates much more abrasive percussive sources, but Tovey remained within his element of entertainer/commentator role when it came to the subject matter at hand.
Gareth Jones (credited as Tonmeister) was at the controls along with Tovey. Jones had previously recorded records with Tuxedomoon, Neonbabies, and The Lost Jockey, but it was his work with Depeche Mode on Construction Time Again that probably mattered the most to Tovey and Mute. Jones had effectively brought everything and the kitchen sink onto Depeche Mode's third album the previous year and Gag, too, is known for its creative incorporation of unconventional sound sources framed within the 3-minute pop template.
"Ideal World" launches the album with a fury. Metallic percussion and angular guitar work rush in like a tidal wave while Tovey barks out a simple song about dreaming in both the physical sense and the ideologic sense. "Collapsing New People" is the album's big hit, however, and it has all the key ingredients: a catchy hook, singable lyrics, and plenty of sass. The opening metallic rhythm is provided by an old letterpress while the title is a play on Einstürzende Neubauten's band name and the song subject is Frank's interpretation of the post-punk post-industrial goth scene in Berlin. The irony is that 28 years later people still swoop to this tune in club nights named after Joy Division songs, dressed like a corpse.
Perhaps it was this scene that Tovey was getting sick of, ushering in his decision to end Fad Gadget and record under a different style under his own name. It makes sense to me, at least. Frank Tovey was an entertainer: he is pictured on the cover of this album tarred and feathered (by Anton Corbijn once again). He continued to dress up on stage and get physically involved (despite being sent home early on the previous tour in plaster casts). At The Loft in Berlin, Tovey grabbed an air conditioning vent in the ceiling and the fake ceiling collapsed onto the stage while Neubauten, on the same bill, left the stage in splinters following some power tool action but the audiences in 1984 didn't show much excitement any more. Dressing in black and moping was the way things went, even if the audience liked you.
From there the energy of the album tapers off with the lullaby-esque "Sleep," as Tovey essentially sings some trite advice to his son, who's voice is featured throughout. As the tempo picks back up again, I'm simply not won over by the melodies and words of most of the remaining songs. Perhaps Frank wasn't as convincing as he had been on prior albums or perhaps I just don't connect with the songs. "Speak To Me" sort of reminds me of the Bowie of the '80s that collects dust in the collection while "Jump" is like one of those white musician dabblings at reggae/dub that don't completely work.
"One Man's Meat" was the album's other single and while I never skip this song when it comes on, it has never left a great impression on me. "Ad Nauseam" closes the album with a sort of surreal piano, percussion, and string melody while a violin loop a'la Psycho forms the rhythmic skeleton from start to finish. It's at this point, Tovey's final song as Fad Gadget, where he admits he chokes "on the gag," but doesn't "get the joke." It ends in a digital breakdown as the tape loop slows down and the digital samples and guitar whine all pile up. The next music to come out of Frank Tovey was his debut under his own name in 1986, Snakes and Ladders, of which I have tried to listen to many times but still have no interest.
Perhaps some of these songs needed to be experienced live to actually feel the energy, on record, however, I don't connect nearly as much as I did to the earlier recordings. On the other hand, meybe Neubauten should have actually been recruited to Gag a much noisier affiar but as Snakes and Ladders somewhat illustrates, it wasn't in Frank's interest.
PS: Mute, if you're reading this, it's time to remaster these albums properly as well as those singles and B-Sides without trying pass off vinyl rips with dreadful EQ (yes I'm referring to that "Best Of" compilation).