If you were to ask any EBM fan about Front 242, you’d likely receive a litany of positive remarks that include their importance to the scene, the groundbreaking work they’ve done in the past, their longevity, and on and on. This glorified, rarefied air of the band is quite probably the biggest obstacle for Front 242 and their new releases, Pulse and Still & Raw, to overcome, because simply put, these are not, I repeat, NOT a typical set of Front 242 albums. No, these are case studies in Front 242 getting experimental on their own terms. As with avant-garde art, it’ll be loved by some and loathed by others, and in my opinion, these releases will likely be in the latter category.
First, let’s take on Still & Raw. Gone are the aggressive singing, the abrasive beats, the youthful rancor of old. They’ve been replaced by a mellower, subtler, wiser breed of Front 242. The result is a skillful navigation of keeping the core elements from the ’80s that most fans love, while presenting them through a prism of new advanced technology. Think Front 242-lite. Let’s be clear, all the songs shine from a technical point of view. Clearly, these guys have not lost any of their knob-twirling, MIDI-sequencing abilities. Still & Raw is well-balanced, and at only six tracks, it keeps you hungry for more. Additionally, songs with lyrics as well as instrumental are represented, satisfying both types of Front 242 fan. This is not an album that shouts “LOOK AT ME, I’M DIFFERENT!” Instead, it seems to scream to the longtime fans, “Hey, we know that you expect A and B, and we’re going to give some C and D as well.” Still & Raw is a risky, courageous effort.
Pulse is also risky and courageous, but only in the same way that carrying a stick of dynamite in your back pocket is considered risky and courageous. The first five tracks are each titled by one letter that cumulatively spell out the word P*U*L*S*E. Cute, huh? Try 12 minutes of pure annoyance. The tracks don’t even share smooth continuity to make it sound as if they were attempting to build some kind of arc toward a larger conclusion, nor any foreshadowing of what is to come. They seem to be merely show-off tracks to demonstrate the depth of their skill without a sense of artistry about them. The epic instrumental is one long, disjointed mess. Pulse doesn’t really feel like it begins until track six – and then only briefly – before they descend back into the experimental meandering that is the hallmark for this release. Redeeming tracks are few and far between but include the down tempo/trip hop “Triple X Girlfriend,” “Matrix <Megahertz>,” and “7Rain.” Still & Raw is a good value for an EP, but Pulse should only be purchased by Front 242 purists who can’t live without owning everything the band has ever released. For everyone else, save your money, and buy a good Yello record instead.
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