[20 March 2012]
It’s not like he’s been gone all this time.
Artificial Madness, when it was released in late 2011, was Chris Connelly’s first album in one year. As a matter of fact, he’s released a new album with his name on it in every calendar year since 2007. The difference between this album and those albums, however, is the approach. These are songs, songs with huge, screaming guitar parts and loud, thumping drums, songs that sing of exile and madness and terror. These are songs that begin out of nowhere and end just as suddenly, songs whose only subtlety lies in Connelly’s delivery of his typically literate lyrics.
In other words, it’s bound to remind people of Ministry, or Revolting Cocks, or Pigface.
Despite a sizable solo oeuvre that has very little to do with any of those bands, Connelly tends to be most often associated with them. It’s not even that he was a particularly large part of Ministry or Pigface, nor that Revolting Cocks were ever anyone’s idea of a serious band, it’s just that his contributions to those bands are so varied and memorable as to be some of the most memorable moments of those bands’ respective discographies. That he would create an album that, on the surface, could be so appealing to fans of those bands bodes well for the exposure of the album, and it’s worth the listen, not only for Connelly’s vocals but for the impressive instrumentation he has surrounded those vocals with.
While the one-two punch of the title track and “Wait for Amateur”—nearly indistinguishable in their use of oom-pah beats and chugging guitars—gets things off to an energetic start, it is the soaring “Classically Wounded” in which the album begins to soar. Dallas Thomas’ guitars get plenty of play here as they fill in the silent spaces with searing solo work, effectively breaking up Connelly’s tale of, as he tells it, “a violinist…impaled on his/her own violin bow.” It’s told in more abstract terms than that, of course.
While the album never flies higher than that track, it continues to be a consistent listen throughout, full of big guitars and high-tempo drums, occasionally slowing down to make a statement about something or other. It is generally these slower moments that make the most lasting mark on the listener. Their slower tempo doesn’t lessen the volume of the guitars or the intensity of Connelly’s poetry; if anything, slowing down for a bit allows Connelly to show off a singing voice that’s two parts David Bowie, one part Ian Curtis, though admittedly nowhere near the level of those two legends. “Imperfect Star” is a lovely little tune that could have been a B-side of Bowie’s Reality, loud guitars and a repetitive melody that actually come together to offer a pleasing drone effect. Where it doesn’t quite work is in the largely spoken word “The Paraffin Hearts”, where Connelly’s understated delivery veers just a little too close to boredom.
Closing with “A Career in Falsehood” is a strong statement; where many artists would mitigate an album with so much despair with a closer that offers hope. Connelly instead laments the fakery of humankind. “The folding of the letters / The framing of an outsized ghost / The sinking of salvation / You’re getting far too close,” he speaks, his words coldly and mechanically echoed at every turn. It’s a harrowing slow-burn of a finish, and it’s effective enough to make you want to start the journey of Artificial Madness again, perhaps hoping for a different ending to the tale the next time around.
There are no outright classics on the album, though “Classically Wounded” comes close. It is an obscure little thing with an appealing sheen that never quite lets its guard down long enough for the listener to really connect with it. Still, Connelly’s approach is consistent and intriguing, and it really is the perfect entry point for those listeners familiar with his previous associations to see what he’s been up to of late. Artificial Madness screams, it squeals, it drowns in despair, and it does so with a semblance of grace.