The career of Randolph & Mortimer has been a strange one thus far. While Sheffield-based, his earliest work slipped out unnoticed over here in the UK, and was picked up first by the European industrial media. amodelofcontrol.com first talked to them on Talk Show Host: 005 in summer 2013 (!), but had actually covered early single The Markets the year before, on Tuesday Ten: 162.
But Listen: 160: Manifesto for a Modern World
Manifesto for a Modern World
Randolph & Mortimer on amodelofcontrol.com
In the time since, there has been a steady trickle of new music, the occasional gig and a great number of remixes, and it could be argued that the latter has helped raise the R&M profile – particularly the stellar 3TEETH remixes – more than anything else. So this album has been a long time coming.
Some might have an issue with a debut album that features a lot of songs we’ve heard before, but this isn’t new. Many bands released multiple singles before their first album, and only a handful of bands omitted their singles from albums entirely. But even so, only three new songs from eleven is surprising, especially when another new song recently went to a compilation instead (in the form of Reaganomic).
Perhaps I’m looking at this the wrong way, though. R&M has been notable for various tracks so far that have felt like outliers, and it is glaringly obvious that these are the tracks omitted here. So maybe we should consider this to be the group’s preferred story so far, and indeed, the press blurb with the actual release last week noted that they saw it as their “greatest hits so far”. Part of that “preferred” story is led by a succession of brutally powerful industrial dancefloor tracks, that nod towards WaxTrax!, classic-EBM and New Beat, but also the current trend for industrial-leaning techno, and the results are often spectacular.
But before we get to the bits we already know – and in some cases are seen in a new light here – let’s have a dig into the new tracks, which are very much worth the purchase price of the album alone. The pick of them for me is Despotic. Using McCarthy-era samples, there appears to be a pointing at present-day politics through the words said, and is accompanied by appropriately malevolent synths and stabbing bass, and frankly should be an instant dancefloor-filler.
Exclude/Divide opens with glassy synths and then kicks the door through with a hulking rhythm that wouldn’t be out of place on The Land of Rape and Honey, and unusually for R&M, even has some vocals buried-and-distorted in the mix, alongside some neat pitch- and tempo-shifting that take us into industrial dance-meets-Big Beat territory.
Enjoy More won’t be new to some R&M listeners, mind, as this was actually played at the first live show the band played (more on Into the Pit: 187), although I can’t recall if it has featured since. Either way, the vocal samples satirise consumer greed and some familiar, well-worn anti-capitalist themes, but even that familiarity can’t lessen the impact of a mightily groovy track.
The more I think about it, too – especially as a number of the tracks here I’ve been listening to regularly for the best part of five years or so – there basically isn’t a single duff track here. Certainly not the opener Existing, Not Living, one of the first tracks most people heard from R&M, which if you’ve not heard it, is a WaxTrax!-era stomper that snarls the title refrain on repeat, and in many ways articulates the issues of many in the UK (particularly in depressed towns outside of London) in just three words.
Even better, Body is one of the best new “new” EBM/New Neat tracks of the past decade, and shares with The Light an excellent line in samples of religious fervour. Both benefit from a less-is-more production, where everything feels stripped back to maximise the monstrous impact of what is already there.
The mechanised, inhuman voice that opens the exceptional Citizens, asking “Are you a good citizen?” starts running questions through my head. What does make a good citizen, and who decides? Is it someone that does good for their community (and, presumably, economy), or is it simply someone who doesn’t rock the boat and complies with every rule? Either way, it’s a pretty scary prospect when you consider the widely-reported Chinese “social credit” system that appears to be being rolled out. It’s a belter of a track, mind, and like everything else here, the crisp, snappy production really enhances it – and if you’ve not heard the astonishing Schwefelgelb remix of it from last year, too, take five minutes now and then come back here.
Originally released as the flipside of Citizens, Witch Hunt! goes full on industrial techno with wobbly acid hooks (and is great). True Order is the one of those outlying experiments that wasn’t discarded, and is the one moment on the album where the pace drops. Mutterings about state control and manipulation accompany a woozy, downtuned bassline and queasy synths, a track that is perhaps by design meant to disorientate and confuse.
One track that was fascinating from the off – particularly with the Meat Cassette-created visuals that accompany it live – is Ballad of the Iron Lady. Using a cut-up method to repurpose Thatcher’s own words to make it sound as if she “meant” to wreak havoc on many (rather than just “did”, an important distinction), this is a track that may divide opinion simply by one’s own political views. It should be recalled that R&M come from Sheffield, a city that suffered greatly at the hands of Thatchers deindustrialisation and anti-Union policies in the Eighties, and arguably has never recovered. There is, needless to say, not a lot of love for the Iron Lady in the broadly left-leaning South Yorkshire region as a result, and this song gets that across well.
Whether the songs are old or new, though: both as a “progress so far” item, and as an album for listeners new to the artist, this is a fantastic listen. It nods to the industrial influences of the past as much as it does current trends in electronic and industrial music, but it does so by making a strong case for Randolph & Mortimer having a clear identity of their own.
An absolutely outstanding release that is easily the best industrial release of 2019 thus far.