Music Reviews

Artist: Spray (@)
Title: Enforced Fun
Format: CD
Label: Banoffeesound (@)
Rated: *****
Synthpop bands seem to be popping up all over the place in such profusion as never before, but maybe I just never noticed and they've been here all along, hiding in the shadows, waiting for the right time to take over our bodies and brains with their infectious beats and melodies. Such is the case with the UK duo Spray (Jenny McLaren - vocals, & Ricardo Autobahn- synths & stuff + production), who have been around since 2001. With some notable previous releases, such as 'Living in Neon' (2002) and 'Children of a Laser God' (2006) one could hardly say they're novices. There has always been something big and clubby about Spray's sound, ultimately geared for the dancefloor, lyrically tongue planted firmly in cheek, and catchy but disposable as a Bic lighter pop melodies, and that hasn't changed on 'Enforced Fun', but what has is the production- polished to such a high gloss on 'Enforced Fun' that you can easily see your image reflected back at you in it. I suppose it's a kind of natural evolution, but one with potential drawbacks we'll get to it a bit later.

After an amusing Prologue delivered by actress Jane Badler (remember the sci-fi TV series 'V' ?) Spray launch into "Hit the Applause Light," a well-turned tune with a potent hook. If radio stations were still playing the kind of new music they used to play in the 80's, they'd certainly be playing this track. But so sad, all that's changed now... "Overdramatic" is nice melodic synthpop, but doesn't have the impact of the precious track. "You Show Me the Way" slows it down a bit, and is Enya-esque without going full-bore Celtic New Age. "Rotating the Square," as beatalicious as it is, may just be too obtuse for the geometrically challanged masses, but nerds will approve. The big hit (in my opinion) is "The Magic 8 Ball Lies," a song that has everything going for it. Great savvy lyrics, neat melody, and killer hook. What more could you ask for? "It's Not Enough" (with Kid Kasio) seems like typical danceclub fodder. "Diabolical Mastermind" seems to get lost in its own story drowning whatever memorable hook it could muster in too much plot. Although the lyrics are quite clever on "It's the Night of the Long Knives Charlie Brown" and the music has almost ska happy beat to it, it feels forced and artificial. (It was songs like this that seemed to herald the end of the halycon days of the 80's.) Although not one of the hottest tracks on 'Enforced Fun,' "Into a Tunnel" is wonderfully charming and thoughtful song, the likes of which you don't usually hear in the synthpop genre. Despite listing all the fave bands of the decade in the song "The 80's Never Died" (with Phil Fletcher & Don Quibeats) this paean to New Wave could have used a stronger hook, something as potent as the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star." "Fake Controversy Coincidentally Moves Product" (with Barry Thumbs) is more satire than substance, but that's self-evident considering the title. Perhaps it would have been better as an instrumental with sampled dialogue rather than a song with lyrics. "The Biggest Pool in LA." works much better in the cynical/satirical vein. Gearing up for the big production number ending with some assistancve from Hyperbubble, Spray prove they're hipper-than-thou in "The Very Nerve Centre of Art/Video Cliche". I'm getting all sorts of vibes here, from Abba to Freezepop and much more. Every weak point on the album previously is forgiven and forgotten with this one. And if that isn't enough, "The Final Song" melds mellow Madonna with Enya and delivers a stellar hook to boot.

Now about that glossy production- it certainly moves the band into the big league, and could be instrumental in getting them noticed beyond the standard synthpop market. However, there is a homogeneity to it that may have some casual listeners thinking "oh, all the songs sound the same" over the course of the whole album. While that's not really true, Jenny McLaren's voice is remarkably consistent, and her harmonies constructed for maximum commercial impact, and Autobahn's synth arrangements and programming are as perfectly executed as possible. So what's so bad about that? Nothing really, but I think Spray has lost a little of its former exhuberence and impulsiveness. Maturity will do that to you. But they still make damn good synthpop music.

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