When Left Spine Down first burst on the scene – the first track I heard was the blistering U Can’t Stop The Bomb, as I recall, and it was certainly among the best tracks of 2008 – they seemed like an awesome idea. Like someone had finally, after some years of trying, understood the idea of “cyberpunk” music. Who knew that successfully fusing punk and industrial could be so hard?
The industrial side of things was pushed pretty relentlessly over the following couple of years, too, with two (!) remix albums and various other appearances, with some brilliant remixes (take a bow The Rabid Whole), some ok remixes by some big-ish names, and a few boring ones. So, pretty much par for the course. And the punk side got a boost by some intriguing covers (their outstanding take on Territorial Pissings, for a start). Their upward trajectory seemed to gain yet another boost when it was announced that their second album was coming on Metropolis: so a hell of a step up to probably the most prominent industrial label in the world, never mind just North America, which would result in them becoming a much bigger deal than before.
Or at least, that is what I had hoped. And the result of this step-up doesn’t really seem to be what I had hoped for. And the first warning I had of this was the single X-Ray, which on first listen (and all those since) felt like first album LSD with all the catchy and rough-edged bits removed. In other words, a band smoothing out their sound in a bid for mass consumption, and in doing so removing all the bits that made them so great in the first place.
Sadly, the album proves quite quickly that the single was far from a one-off. Opening the album is the lengthy Troubleshoot (an entirely unnecessary seven minutes in length), that is full of skittering beats and interesting sonic effects…but the tune drags its feet, and the feel is of a band going through the motions. And The Truth Is A Lie is rather toothless, a punchy rhythm let down by a pretty weak chorus.
Hit and Run and Overdriven gain more of the old fire, played faster, harder and meaner, but these are topped by the one true highlight of the album – Stolen Car. This fulfils all of the promise of the first album on its own – in company that is admittedly not stellar – by simply remembering the previous sound of the band. A punk-industrial sonic overload, with a jagged, complex and dense sound that absolutely barrels along at a breathless pace, and has a corking, sing-out-loud chorus.
So why isn’t there more of this? Especially when space is wasted on the album by the limp Marilyn-Manson-esque-balladry-on-a-bad-day of On The Other Side and the drippy intro to From Thirty To Zero. The latter is another song that is far, far too long, slipping between interesting instrumental drum’n’bass workouts and not-so-interesting verses. And Nothing to Fear? Well, there is a lot to fear from NIN-esque acoustic breakdowns and yet another song that is about twice as long as it needs to be. Somehow the final track – some attempt at a stadium ballad, with results as you might expect from a band whose best moments have been their fastest and punkiest – drags out for nearly ten minutes.
And the end of the album is a retro idea, too – a secret track! The secret track is a lengthy one, too, a sample-laden industrial soundscape that turns into something of a dark, trip-hop workout. Sadly it is far superior to much of the rest of the album.
I feel really bad for laying into an album by a band I like a lot, and had high hopes for – but somewhere along the line this band have taken a wrong turn, and for whatever reason, this album really does not work at all. Too polished, too radio-friendly – call it what you will, the reality is that LSD 2.0 is actually a vastly inferior upgrade. I’m not suggesting a rollback, but a rethink is maybe a good idea.
In the meantime, I’ll go back to listening to the superior Fighting For Voltage.