The Black Moth Super Rainbow mastermind shows us the shape vision of a decaying, putrid pop to come – but doesn’t quite show us enough of it.
Remember that period several years back when Girls Aloud were the pop band every self respecting Serious Music Fan were allowed, nay, supposed to like? When everyone talked about xenomania like they were twisted avant garde pop geniuses creating mind altering weird pop? It started a trend where stuff judged as being Just Good Pop became critically unimpeachable classics and anyone disagreeing is merely being precious and closed minded. So far as I can tell Taylor Swift seems to be the current standard bearer for this, though having never knowingly heard any of her songs I can’t really comment. Anyway, needless to say it all passed me by: I’m what would probably be labelled ‘rockist’ due to my steadfast insistence not to recognise Britney Spear’s Toxic as being to music what Citizen Kane was to film. That’s fine: there’s more than enough room in the world for both musical orthodoxies to co-exist, along with many others. Life’s too short to get het up about such things.
I bring this up because there are moments on Ultima II Massage however which sound like the songs people seemed to be describing Girls Aloud singles back in their day. And y’know If Toxic had have sounded half as warped and diseased as Lipstick Destroyer I may have hitched a ride on that bandwagon myself.
There’s something decayed and all together wrong about pop done the Tobacco way. Every line on Lipstick Destroyer seems to melt away rather than end, sounding like it’s had the life force sucked out of it. It’s as lurid and filthy as a the sticky floor of a club beneath the coloured disco lights. Eruption (Gonna Cut My Hair at the End of the Summer) is infectious like a tropical illness – it sounds like flourescent pus would come oozing out of it if you were to give it a poke. It’s compellingly disturbed stuff, like askew pop anthems from an alternate universe where all the sleaze of the record industry were allowed to hang out in all it’s grotty, ugly glory. Sadly there are only a handful of similarly enticing tracks – Tobacco’s solo releases tend to be a grab bag of odds and ends and Ultima II Massage is no different. A lot of it sounds like his day job in Black Moth Super Rainbow minus the weird GLaDOS style vocals. There are a few experiments which seem to just peter out after a minute or so and not go anywhere, and then there are a few huge sounding psychedelic electronica tracks like Father, Sister, Berzerker with that trademark woozy Tobacco quality, sounding like the aural equivalent of a broken kaleidoscope – bright and vivid sounds all bleeding into each other at once. Then there’s Blow You Heart which seems to be an attempted homage to Daft Punk, the success of which depends on how much you wanted to hear a Daft Punk track pop up out of nowhere. Me? Not so much.
The records gravest crime however isn’t it’s eclecticism, as it doesn’t do anything it tries badly, or even being a undeniably bloated (it has no business at all being 16 tracks long); it’s in having a few tracks that stand out so flamboyantly from the rest that such perfectly fine tracks pale alongside them. Large chunks of it sound like Black Moth Super Rainbow offcuts, which while all fine and dandy kinda defeats the object of a solo outing, and they sound a little timid by comparison to the OTT dayglo-paint-bombs of the record’s highlights. You can’t help but wonder what kind of a record Tobacco could create if he went all out on his twisted vision of pop – or even better if the next child star turned pop star off the production line were entrusted to his grubby hands when they want to do their look-how-grown-up-I-am album. I’m not entirely sure I, or the world at large, is ready for Tobacco the Pop Svengali, but it sure would be a lot of fun to find out for sure.