M – “The Official Secrets Act”

This is the last of the vinyl I picked up on my east coast trip last month.  I wasn’t saving it for last or anything, it just happened to work out that way.  I’d already listened to it a few times before putting it on tonight, and I have to admit, I’m looking forward to hearing it again, because it’s pretty damn good.

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M was a late 1970s/early 1980s project of artist Robin Scott and The Official Secrets Act was his second LP, coming out in 1980.  At it’s root it’s very synth-pop, that poppish direction that broke free of the darker elements of post-punk and new wave to go off in a more bouncy direction.  But don’t think it’s just generic synth-pop, because Scott has some surprises for you.  And you get perhaps the biggest one right out of the gate with the atmospheric and sampled “Transmission (The World Is At Your Fingertips),” a song that builds slowly and is mostly defined by clips from what sound like radio or TV broadcasts.  Even his more standard fare like the impressive “Join The Party” have a combination of singing and parts that are sort of spoken, reminding me a bit of Gary Clail or maybe Thomas Dolby.  And it’s not just Clail and Dolby.  There are elements of Devo here too, and maybe even some Monty Python, such as on “Working For The Corporation,” a song that sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack of Terry Gilliam’s brilliant movie Brazil.

There’s definitely a political vibe to this record.  Just look at the song titles – in addition to the three tracks previously mentioned, the others on side A are “Your Country Needs You” and “M’aider” (“Help Me”).  On the flip side you’ve got titles like “Keep It To Yourself” and “Official Secrets Act.”  Frankly the whole thing has a sort of slightly twisted, dystopian pop vibe, like a version of 1984 on nitrous or the original Logan’s Run.  It’s fun and a little funny, but there might be something more than a little scary lurking underneath.

M gives us a bit of everything – samples, weird throat sounds, orchestral arrangements, modulated vocals… and don’t forget the synths.  While it’s certainly dated to some extent (right down to the wailing saxophone on “Maniac”…), it’s actually held up pretty well, still feeling quasi-futuristic and clean.  Scott may not have scored the same chart success with The Official Secrets Act as he did with the hit single “Pop Muzik” from his debut, but what he did was put together an interesting blend of songs and elements that orbit his synth-pop planet.  And it works.

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