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The Legendary Pink Dots – The Gethsemane Option


The Legendary Pink Dots - The Gethsemane OptionIt’s hard to write about The Legendary Pink Dots. It’s hard on one level because they make music which tends to bypass the analytical centres of the brain and go straight for the bits that experience stuff. It’s hard in the same way that describing your dreams is hard, or trying to build a model of St Paul’s Cathedral from soup. But I’ll give it a shot, given that there’s a new album out.

Over thirty-three years and more than forty albums, the Dots have followed a pretty singular vision throughout a multitude of genres, at times as comfortable alongside Front 242 as they are alongside Syd Barrett at others. They’ve been as cosmic as Hawkwind and as intimate as Nick Drake, occasionally both at the same time. They can be as dark as Skinny Puppy (with the collaborations to show for it) or as light and fluffy as… as… I dunno, some kind of space trifle. Again, occasionally both at the same time. They can get menace from beauty, and draw out awesome from the mundane. They’re pretty ace, in other words.

Their latest offering, The Gethsemane Option, is pretty stripped-down for the Dots, although even that’s still fairly expansive and epic. For such an internationally-focused band, there’s an Englishness about this one, as illustrated by a couple of track titles. And never let it be said that Edward Ka-Spel‘s genius with words or sense of the vast and contemplative has in any way lessened his completely human and entirely understandable love of a terrible pun. There’s “The Garden Of Ealing,” and then on top of that there’s “Esher Everywhere,” with its echoes of Roky Eriksson (and to a lesser extent Julian Cope), and it’s on this latter number that he turns his ire on the very deserving and very British bogeyman du jour, David Cameron. “We’re all in this together, in a place that we can share; A big society, let’s call it Esher Everywhere”. It’s the bullshit Tory dream reimagined (or perhaps a better choice of words would be “accurately described”) as a Ballardian nightmare. It’s the domestic Apocalypse, Armaggedon with a perfect lawn and access to the best schools, suburbia as a new map of Hell.

And all this takes place at the more electronic end of the Dots’ spectrum. Opener “A Star Is Born” continues the long-standing Dots tradition of starting big, and introducing an album with an epic. “This is holy magick” he repeats over the crescendo, all glitch, hiss and black hole synths. And here’s the reality, the cold hard fact of real life beyond the manicured lawns, the “shabby flat in Nowhere Town”, the “cruel, cruel world”. It’s the kind of thing most bands would have the decency to build up to, really, but the Dots credit you with the fortitude to handle this level of intensity straight off the bat. It’s flattering, and frightening.

The aforementioned “The Garden Of Ealing” opens with loops and samples that recall Throbbing Gristle, suggesting menace without actually letting on just what it is we’re being menaced by, which is always a good trick. But it’s not all excoriation and viscera. Underneath it all Edward’s still the baffled genius we’ve come to know and love over the years. Right from the opening line of “One More Dimension,” which closes the album, “Forgive my interference, there’s spirits on the line,” and the looping, mantric bassline, it’s apparent that the Dots are still perhaps the band most talented at exploring the space inside the listener’s head.

If you’re a fan, then they’ve done nothing to disappoint here; they’re still consolidating and expanding their unique sound. And if you’ve never really dipped your toes into their pool of awesome, then this is as good a place as any to take a dive.

-Justin Farrington-

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