If Marc Almond had an equally dramatic son and he sang for Depeche Mode and New Order.
Teddy and Alex, the duo who form Centre Excuse have crafted a wonderful synergy between aggressive brooding synth goth and some classy alt-pop vibes. There is a little Soft Cell, a little Cure, a splash of New Order and Depeche Mode but also a dash of cyber rock thrown in too. It is a heady concept that absolutely works because of the great songwriting and varied makeup of the songs.
On one hand, you have some really catchy synth-pop with opener ‘Fly Free’ with huge driving buzzsaw synths savagely cutting through the mix to attack you. Then the flipside ‘Judge Me’ slashes chunky guitars front and centre and places a catchy synth riff as the codas instead. The duo adore the emo world of Blink182 and there is definitely a hint of their sound – or perhaps more of a Green Day or Cure vibe with other tracks like ‘Favourite Soul’. Regardless of which way they arrange their sound, it is always a brooding emotive pull that draws you in. The riffs are catchy but largely quite dark and play to the strengths of a clever minor chord.
Whilst very few of the songs wouldn’t sound out of place on Radio 6, some of the best moments of the album are found in the more chaotic industrial cyberpunk side of the album. Here, the percussive side of tracks like ‘Killing Me’ really pounds the anthemic depression home. When the guitar and synth bass pull to the fore, it often allows Teddy’s voice to really shine. He is able to rinse drama out of a phone book and that suits the highly dramatic and cinematic universe Centre Excuse create.
As the album moves on the only mild criticism I could possibly aim at Centre Excuse is that there are some notable production differences between sections of the album. ‘We Worked It Out’, ‘Worthless’ and ‘Moon, Sky and Stars’ are all fantastic tracks but that audibly sound like a different master than what comes before them. The latter track of that trio is a stunningly over the top synth string explosion that any pop diva would have been proud of. It reminds me a little of when Savage Garden attempted to be a little darker but couldn’t commit to it. Centre Excuse puts all their eggs into the sad goth basket.
There are a couple of uplifting moments though. ‘Thank You (for moving me up)’ hilariously copies a vocal nugget from Shakira’s ‘Try Everything’ and even bring in the cowbells and tom drums for the bridge. It is a fabulous mash-up of Tatu and Depeche Mode that I didn’t know I needed. ‘Joy Joy Joy’ is also a crazy fun goth-pop anthem waiting to be discovered. From the quirky synth runs to the powerful wave of vocals, guitars and synths for the chorus – it just works so well.
Centre Excuse has crafted one of my favourite albums of 2020. Its mix of emotional synth work, overwrought vocals and grungy guitars hit a sweet spot so many bands just fail to meet. Catchy and meaningful? What fresh heaven is this?
Recommended track: Joy, Joy, Joy
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