New York collective Phenomenal Handclap Band return with their sophomore album, and it’s a curious beast. You know when they travel to the future in the Bill and Ted films, and it’s basically the 1980s except it’s the future? That’s pretty much what this album is. Except with the 1970s. And no Keanu Reeves, which is a shame. It’s all disco grooves, funk guitar, layer cake production and vocal arrangements that sound like a computer has been fed a load of ABBA, Blondie and Scissor Sisters and programmed to compose something.
“OK,” I hear you ask. “Um, is that good?” Well. It’s not not good. Everything’s in here, from skyscraping falsetto vocals to squalling guitar solos, from piano to Wurlitzer to Hammond organ, from deliberately primitive-sounding techno grooves to blaxploitation-y wah-wah bass, with some surprisingly dense lyrics thrown in for good measure, and if this kind of why-stop-with-the-kitchen-sink-when-we-can-have-the-whole-kitchen-and-more approach floats your boat, and you’re happy to live in a musical landscape that sounds like THE YEAR 2000 as feverishly imagined by someone from 1973, then you’ll probably lap this up like a hungry cat at a milk truck crash. As for me, I quite liked it. When it’s good, it’s very good, as on the guitar-heavy strut of “The Written Word” and “Afterglow”. But when it’s not so good, as on the tedious nu-disco of “Give”, it’s, um, not so good.
Of course, that’s the nature of an album like this. If you’re going to throw everything at the wall, not everything is going to stick. Happily, more sticks on “Form and Control” than doesn’t stick, and the fact that it’s occasionally camper than Julian Clary going camping in a camper van just adds to its charm. Not entirely bodacious, but far from bogus.