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John Foxx - Tiny Colour Movies
John Foxx & Louis Gordon - Live From A Room (As Big As A City)
Both albums released on Metamatic Records (2006)

 

ImageThe erstwhile frontman of Ultravox! (back in those days still with an exclamation mark, as a tribute to Neu!) has always been a bit difficult to categorize, i.e. for the superficial music listener. For those who think this has anything to do with "Vienna", you can stop reading right here.

 

For fans of John Foxx, it's almost like we're 11 years back in time. Because in 1995, Foxx released a project called "Cathedral Oceans", an ambient-like project that imagined "music for a vast, half-submerged ruined cathedral" (2005 saw the release of Volume 3). But Foxx also released an album called "Shifting City" with like-minded musician Louis Gordon, an album that harked back in time, when Foxx released his first solo album, "Metamatic" (1980). Ehm, are you still with me?

 

In 2006, Foxx released almost simultaneously yet another album in the ambient category, but also an album with Louis Gordon (although the latter might actually be seen as a compilation album - read on).

 

According to the liner notes of "Tiny Colour Movies", Foxx met up with a private collector of short movies called Arnold Weiczs-Bryant and was fascinated by them. He was so impressed that he started to 'score' the movies in his head. The results became this instrumental album (and hence, that title). Every 'short movie' has its own description by Foxx in the booklet, with 'movie stills' in the booklet.

 

For Foxx fans, this will make sense: Foxx has always been a fan of movies and in the days of Ultravox! There was even a song called "Hiroshima Mon Amour" (granted, it could also have been inspired by the book!). And there has always been a cinematic quality to his music. Like Gary Numan's, Foxx's music/songs often evoke(s) a future that never was; "Tiny Colour Movies" is no different.

 

Like one of my friends said to me when I showed him the track listing of the album, it's almost worth buying on the strength of the titles alone: "Lost New York", "Kurfürstendamm" (sounds German and somewhat reminiscent of Kraftwerk), "Skyscraper", "Underwater Automobiles", "Shadow City" and "Hand-held Skies" are just a few of them. The melodies and arrangements are very cinematic indeed and therefore a movie that plays itself out nicely in your mind's eye. I wouldn't be surprised if Foxx was ever approached to score a science fiction film.

 

(Having said all that, in a recent Foxx interview for Ballardian.com, the interviewer hinted that Foxx made the whole 'short movies' project up, and that Foxx had left very clever clues in the interview for this assumption. That would make sense, as Foxx does not have to tell the truth in an album booklet and does not promote the movies in any way. The 'screen stills' can also be made by him, as Foxx is also a designer, of album covers, book covers etc.)

 

"Live From A Room (As Big As A City)" with Louis Gordon is another prospect altogether. The back sleeve notes that it was "recorded live at Longwave rehearsal rooms, June 2006". This means that it's about as 'live' as 1997's "The Omnidelic Exotour".

 

Let's go back to that album for a moment. "The Omnidelic Exotour" gave Foxx a chance to work on the arrangements for his upcoming tour, the first after "Shifting City" (1995) was released. In my opinion, "The Omnidelic Exotour" is most notable for its version of the title track of "Shifting City" (featuring an awesome lengthy coda at the end). And the updates of Ultravox! classics as "Hiroshima Mon Amour", "The Quiet Men", "Dislocation" and, most notably, "Just For A Moment" sound fresh. It is also important to remember that the sound quality of "The Omnidelic Exotour" was great, and it almost plays like a regular studio album if you would not know that it was a live album.

 

Such innovation and inspiration seems a bit absent on "Live From A Room (As Big As A City)", although the sound quality equals its abovementioned predecessor. About half of the tracks on this 'live' album are from the "Metamatic"-era (tracks 4-9). Five tracks are from his 3 recent collaborative albums with Louis Gordon ("Shifting City", 2001's "The Pleasures of Electricity" and 2003's "Crash And Burn", respectively). The album closes with a version of Ultravox!'s "My Sex".

 

In my opinion, Foxx and Gordon did not choose the track listing wisely. Perhaps these songs are the most fun/easy for them to play live, but they are not personal favourites and these versions offer little extra next to their studio versions… with the exception of its last two tracks. "Nightlife" seems to get more intense as the track progresses and has a similar lengthy coda as "Shifting City" had on "The Omnidelic Exotour"). "My Sex" (often called the first electro ballad) was always a very distinctive track, even back when it was first released. On this 'live' album, it first plays like the original, with the exception that it sounds even more Satie-like (piano as main instrument instead of keyboard); then, just as the track seems to end, an energetic, tacked-on electric coda emerges. The result is wonderful.

 

As a whole, though, this seems like an attempt to cash in just before their new studio album, "From Trash" is released. For those of you who have already had a look at the track listing, you will have seen some familiar titles: "A Room As Big As A City" (ties in nicely with the title of the 'live' album) and "Your Kisses Burn" (a track from John's collaboration with Bomb The Bass' Tim Simenon, only recently released -finally!- on Nation 12's "Electrofear" album).

 

Review by Robert van Gameren

 
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