[4 October 2007]
One… two… three… (counts on fingers)... nine… ten… (counts on toes)... 13… 14! Tohuvabohu is KMFDM’s 14th album in something like 23 years of existence. And somehow, very little has changed.
The beauty (or the primary problem, depending on who you ask) of KMFDM is what the band itself refers to as “conceptual continuity”; code for the fact that every album sounds basically the same. If you pick up a KMFDM album at a record store, you know what you’re going to get: dance beats, shouting voices, shameless sloganeering, and that ever-identifiable Brute cover art. The only albums that stray at all from the formula are the first two (What Do You Know, Deutschland? and Don’t Blow Your Top), and those are really only different at all due to the noise-collage-with-a-beat style of those albums’ deep cuts.
Ever since UAIOE, it’s been the same. Sure, there are occasional forays into themes. Angst is the “metal” album, the disc commonly referred to as Symbols is the “dance” album, and Adios... well, that was the “embarrassment” album.
Now that we’re on album number 14, it’s safe to say that we have enough of a back catalogue against which to judge even the new albums on which there is no single definable theme. It’s a good thing, too, as ever since the band’s liberation from Wax Trax and the ill-advised MDFMK experiment, the KMFDM albums that have been foisted upon the world see a band content to live on its legacy, striving only to be the sum total of what it has been. New technology has even gone so far as to sterilize some of those trademark beats a bit, further blurring the differences between the albums since the turn of the millennium. As such, we are at the point where the primary means of evaluating a KMFDM album past the ultra-dismissive “it is what it is” method is by looking at the memorable moments that each of these new albums contain. Songs that have an effective hook, a way of drawing the listener in by means beyond the cookie cutter formula, count in the album’s favor. The songs that are visibly awful count against it.
Everything else? Well, uh, it is what it is.
Thankfully, unlike an album like the previous effort Hau Ruck which has few, if any defining moments, Tohuvabohu has plenty, not least album opener “Superpower”. The most obvious hook is also one that comes off as so cheesy, so self-aggrandizing, and so ego-driven that KMFDM is one of the only bands on the planet that could get away with it. You see, shortly after the Hau Ruck tour had finished, Koneitzko, (who has taken to calling himself “Captain K” as of this release, which sounds more like a breakfast cereal than anything), opened up a phone line and hooked it up to an answering machine so that fans could call and tell the machine how awesome KMFDM is.
Presumably, the Captain’s favorite messages ended up in “Superpower”. It’s a gimmick, yes, and the results are mixed, (though the deep male voice offering “KMFDM makes me feel like a real woman” is worth hearing). The song itself is strong enough as one of KMFDM’s trademarked self-identification anthems that even without the phone messages; it’d be a fantastic listen. A great beat, lots of horns, and Koneitzko emulating the deep vocals of former member En Esch make it so.
Koneitzko’s vocals are, in fact, a consistent high point throughout the album. The title track sees him donning a deep singing voice for the verses not unlike that of Eskil Simonsson from Covenant, (or a slightly flat, highly teutonic David Gahan), that works brilliantly with the song’s breakneck pace and screamed chorus. Even his ever-present slightly-distorted shouting seems more inspired than it has in some time; where on Hau Ruck, Koneitzko sounded tired and ready to pack it in, Tohuvabohu is a portrait of someone ready to stick it out for at least six more albums, you know, to get to big number 20. It’s a nice, round number. Round numbers suit KMFDM.
“Los Niños Del Parque”, however, takes home the prize as a perfect KMFDM moment. A cover of the Liaisons Dangereuses classic, it’s actually subtler than the original, with a beat that worms its way into your head and occasional breaks for synth solos. The best part here is that KMFDM even gets to reference itself in a cover song. The primary synth line in the vocal breaks is pulled directly from “Friede” from the classic Naïve. “Looking for Strange” is destined for the dance floor, pulling straight from the “Juke Joint Jezebel” mold of songwriting, (though with about half the soul), and “Not in My Name” is a nice little starring vehicle for Ms. Lucia Cifarelli, who gets to show off both her crooning voice and her screaming-like-Chester-Bennington voice.
As for weak points, only the contrived and boring “Headcase” stands out, and only for the fact that it’s even more generic-sounding than the other generic stuff on Tohuvabohu.
As such, by the time the vaguely tribal beats of “Bumaye” appear, it feels like this time was better than the last, that Tohuvabohu is better than KMFDM has been in some time, actually. Perhaps it’s the inspired vocal performances, perhaps it’s the sheer gumption of stunts like the answering machine thing and the idea that you would use one of your own old synth lines in a cover track, or maybe the beats are just a little bit better programmed this time around. Regardless of what the primary reason is, Tohuvabohu is KMFDM, and it’s good at being KMFDM, which is a lot more than you can say for the last effort. Even if you’ve lost your faith in the band, give it a listen; you might just find the spark you’d all but forgotten about.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/kmfdm-tohuvabohu/