Electronic music is a phrase that could have been coined by Kraftwerk in the mid 1970's and if not by them, then certainly by the public who either loved or loathed the sound. Electronic music has seen many bands and singers though for the more popular and accessible credit must be given to the likes of the Pet Shop Boys. The Beloved, or simply "Beloved," as they were later known had a few tricks up their sleeve where their rendition of Electronic pop music is concerned.
Certainly if you have never heard of "The Beloved," then you may well have heard of their calling song which was forever shown on TV and bordered controversial themes showing a group of naked women with the lead singer of the band in the middle using clever angles of arms and hands to cover up the naughty bits. And the song that this video featured wasn't half bad either, a song which even when I hear today doesn't date itself or shame itself with old instruments classed with an 1980's or even a 1990's sound that could be deemed old fashioned. Infact "Sweet Harmony," has been a great song used for television adverts and also included on chill out albums for its soft hushed vocal tones of the lead singer, Jon Marsh.
The Beloved however have always been an electronic music group, using similar effects from the work of The Pet Shop Boys but with a slight brass and Sax effects which lift it from the engineered electro-acoustic club sound to a distinctive 1990's mellow London sound that other British bands have employed. There are eleven songs on this album and at cost I remember paying around £10 for it many space-moons ago! My album has a full lyrics list but not all albums had the lyrics; this is also a long review.
"Conscience" was one of the albums launched in 1993 when "Sweet Harmony," reached the air waves. Certainly if you know the song then you'll know the tones of Marsh's bass voice, an ethereal quality which is apparent from the way he paints his voice by breathing deeply into the mic and unashamedly slurring and sensually tickling his voice rather than include any vibrato or quality that can be discussed, rated or compared to anyone else. In short, whilst Marsh has a certain knack of twisting songs to fit his voice, it is usually the other way around, made known by female backing vocals which sing two octaves apart from his low voice.
Whilst Sweet Harmony holds no unusual story lines, the album begins with an up beat 12 beat ballad called "Spirit," showing shades of real strings and glinting drum beats complete with copy and answer phrasing and simple poetry. However whilst there are shades of Roxy music here with an all female cast in the background, the song serves up a good dose of who The Beloved are aside from a flurry of strings towards the end. Not every song however seems timeless, "Outerspace Girl," suffers from a back ground disco beat and swaying bass line designed to bridge electronic sounds and a feeling of transient space travel to meet the love of his life in the stars. If ever there was a precursor song to Jamiroquai's Acid jazz inspired "Cosmic Girl," then this is the song that does it. What ruins it however is the opening piano chords thumping the familiar light dance club lick that has graced many dance tracks of the late 1980's, only for it to appear in between verses before the chorus comes back in. Whilst Cosmic Girl is an upbeat unashamed disco track, this is the journey beforehand illustrated in this song. It is never a good idea to finish one song in the same key however and move onto another song with the same key, and that's what "Lose Yourself In Me," suffers from. And it is pretty similar to the latter song, serving up a believable Part 2 to the journey to outer space with similar echoing effects and repeated ideas.
There are some gems on this album and some which pass you by easily. "Paradise Found," has another disco dance club style weaving through it before it passes through a slow motion feeling of falling keyboards and synths which mimic some ingredients of Peter Gabriel from his "So," album of 1986 and even perhaps some of the analogue sounds established by Howard Jones two years previous with another favourite album of mine, "Humans Lib." But there's not just a dance vibe in this song, or something perhaps slower as the drugs kick in, but rather bending his voice, there becomes more of a dampened sustaining feeling, almost of something becoming lost as the song keeps going.
"You've Got Me Thinking," jollies along in a completely different style and welcomes back, somewhat a happier feeling heard from "Sweet Harmony," even though his voice is more sustained, Marsh paints a picture of what can be said between being in love and through short phrases, a story of regret. But discount the easy rhyming wordy passages and you'll be blessed with that cool, mellowness dance vibe that only the same served up backing vocals, constant repeated musical patterns in the strings and a sparkling acoustic guitar brings. It certainly sounds as if the Spice Girl's first album was inspired by this song, especially from their song, "2 Become 1." So it is of great pity that whilst regret is painted, the song is too short for its own good.
"Celebrate Your Life," washes amongst fade ins and fade outs of electric guitars and another swaying bass line, perhaps similar to songs heard before such as "Lose Yourself In Me," but here this song is slightly different and has a typical R n B style of gospel like choruses and a celebration for life. Of course the title couldn't be more befitting even if the choruses behold a choir of mixed voices with a single female dictating the sermon of the day.
"Rock to the Rhythm of Life," brings back a disco dance feeling with shades of Human League without their political stance. Here there is a similar story line of fighting, even though its all about love and arm in arm, casting a military strong army of lovers hand in hand fighting for something; it didn't become one of the more Gay appealed anthems for nothing even though it has tacky electro trumpets blasting in and out, reminiscent of PSB and Erasure. This is a song you'll either just listen to or fast forward to the next one. Whilst you may consider moving onto the next, the song does improve gradually, bringing back female backing vocalists which adds gloss to the track and improves its overall quality, even though its not a favourite song of mine it still holds a lot of electronics for electronic lovers. "Let The Music Takes You," serves up as a follow on track again with a bouncy backing track, springing acoustic guitar fade ins and drum machines galore. And of course it just wouldn't be the perfect follow on track without those tacky electro-trumpets!
"1000 Years from Today," is more experimental. It's easy to forgive the drum machine with its open high hats and interspersed chunks of jazz piano glinting in and out of the track. Enter the electro-hand claps, and there's a slight difference to this song than most on this album; here's one song Marsh sings without any other accompaniment that plays the same musical line. The mellow sensuality of Marsh's voice runs through a difficult series of verses towards a chorus.
"Dream On," has a strong Ethnic feel attached to it, even though it has certain aspects of stereo imaging effects which are original and yet seem to be used much later in dance tracks by other artists. Here's a song that gets you remembering cool nights with a lover, or perhaps a song designed to take you into smoky atmosphere of a dance club. Even if the backing vocals are plain, the song works on many levels of being drawn into the effects and the overall impact is a song which is one of the more stronger hits on the album - even if it wasn't a single, there are many highlights to this song, even sections of it are recorded in reverse towards the end - a typical use in the early 1990's - but importantly its not a fast dance track - but serves up the thinking behind this album as the closing song.
Conscience is a great album that has some songs which may have some nervous moments of too many familiar electronic effects but they still carry an identifiable source of energy that is still welcome today. Despite some dated effects, Marsh and his crew wrote an album that simply for the most part has a very timeless feel to it, and for an album from the 1990's, it doesn't feel as if it should ever shy away. Thanks for reading ©Nar2 2008
Conscience (with lyrics)
Audio CD (8 Feb 1993)
Label: East West
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Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Sweet Harmony
3 Outerspace Girl
4 Lose Yourself in Me
5 Paradise Found
6 You've Got Me Thinking
7 Celebrate Your Life
8 Rock to the Rhythm of Love
9 Let the Music Take You
10 1000 Years from Today
11 Dream On