The Pet Shop Boys are often maligned but their brand of synthpop in the 80’s symbolised quite a few great things that I have personally appreciated in music much later down the line. Rodney Cromwell certainly channels some of their dance floor vibes with his new EP “Rodney’s English Disco” as he mixes synthpop, tech-noir cyberpunk feelings and a bit of English awkwardness up in a stewing pot for some great tracks.
“Comrades” opens the EP superbly embuing all the traits I talked about above. Seedy bass lines, metallic and rubbery synths, vocoder spoken lyrics and an underground tone that makes you feel like you need a shower after listening, it’s a great piece. “Barbed Wire” turns things towards a rockier side with that typical Cure guitar layout of a thick rubbery bass that plays out the main verse melody before synths and guitars join for its gothic glamour effect. The feel of the instrumentation is superb, but Cromwell’s voice is slightly off. He uses a monotone low register half the time and pairs it with a higher register for the other half. Neither are quite in the ballpark of the rest of the song though, so it sounds messy and muddy. It may work for some people, but it was a minus point for me. “Technocrats” reminds me a bit of Freezepop in its perky song structure, even if its trying to use miserable synth sounds to make the track sound evil. It succeeds with the choruses with a b-movie like alien horror quality, but otherwise, it is a great track that’s slightly too awkward to be a dancefloor hit, but too fun to not dance stupidly around to. “Dreamland” rounds off the four tracks with a Soft Cell styled ballad with a splash of Close Encounters of the Third Kind thrown in but again the vocals are what bring the experience down a notch. Each track then has its own remix version. Fascinatingly, the remixes are just as good as the originals, in particular, “Dreamland Alice Hubble Remix” which removes all the vocals and turns it into an ethereal Cocteau Twin-esque piece.
Rodney Cromwell’s synth abilities are loud and proud. He can create catchy riffs and melodies – bringing the best of the 80’s forward to merge with today’s technologies. What is lacking is a vocal style that fits in with this. When it’s chopped up, or vocoded, or ambient like – it works well. The tracks where the restless almost spoken dirges are at the front and centre though suffer from this delivery in my opinion, and so playing around the vocals in different ways will raise Rodney’s game no end. Potential.
Recommended track: Comrades
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