Each week, we take a retrospective look on albums which we think are either criminally underrated or woefully overrated, and why they actually rock/suck.
Howard Devoto was best known for his work with post-punk icons Magazine, but what few give him credit for is his subsequent mastery of experimental pop music, peaking on Unanswerable Lust, a collaborative effort with multi-instrumentalist Noko under the name Luxuria. While the songs on the album were unlikely to receive major radio airplay, the earworm choruses of ‘Redneck’ and ‘Celebrity’ could have made a real dent in the charts if released by – dare I say it – a more ‘radio-friendly’ group. Not every song is an all-out pop effort though – ‘Flesh’ and ‘Luxuria’ certainly flirt with pop on a musical level, but are mitigated significantly by Devoto’s unique but slightly unsettling singing style. This combination of light music and dark tone makes these efforts feel like some macabre piece of theatre – a celebration of death or the like.
Noko’s clever guitar work functions as a backbone to most songs, whether it’s the pretty acoustic chords in the dramatic love-ballad ‘Lady 21’ or the funky bassline acting as the driving force in ‘Public Highway’. While Noko is the backbone, Devoto is of course the brain. More surprisingly though, he finds himself acting as the heart on the album too, with declarations of infatuation like ‘I may never know what hit me but I’ll leap with all of my faith’ (‘Lady 21’), juxtaposed by ultimatums like ‘If you’re free as air, I don’t want to breathe’ (‘Mlle’). Despite all this raw emotion on display, there’s also dark humour abound. Whether it’s the ridiculing of pop culture in ‘Celebrity’ or the joyful disposal of all emotions in ‘Rubbish’, Devoto makes it clear that he has a beating heart but it’s black through and through.
It’s the massive juxtaposition of the radio friendly (guitar) pop and Devoto’s literary-influenced but darkly humorous lyrics that make the album so unique, and why it’s such a surprise that it works. It could easily be a catastrophic stew of pretentious wankery behind a Pet Shop Boys-fueled synth nightmare, but it isn’t. It’s a genuinely brilliant alternative pop album by two of the most underrated musicians of the era.
Click here to see if the album really is as good as I say.