There are bands for whom this kind of compilation in 2014 would be redundant. Despite the presence of (versions of) 12 of these 19 tracks on relatively recent, well-curated, beautifully packaged compilations, Cabaret Voltaire are not one of those bands. The greater part of why #7885 is necessary simply and sadly goes back to the Cabs being one of those pioneering groups (more pioneering than most, right down to inventing some of the instruments they were using) that is given more lip service than actual love, let alone being played and heard. If you were to trace the direct influence of all the band’s work here alone, you would eventually map a huge, largely unacknowledged debt in popular music.
But beyond the simple fact that more people should hear Cabaret Voltaire (because they would like it, and learn some history, not because the band somehow deserves it), we need #7885 as well as the two excellent Original Sound of Sheffield collections because, as the subtitle here makes clear, neither of them give the whole picture. This is the first collection to try and trace, in one disc, the main arc of the Cabs’ progress; the trail from “The Set Up” to “Big Funk” is a long one, and if during these years Cabaret Voltaire never sounded like anyone but themselves, theirs is one of the most compelling stories extant of a band broadening their sound, not to chase mass appeal, but to incorporate new skills and interests.
Any survey of Cabaret Voltaire’s work has to include the likes of the grotty, snottily compelling early spasms of “Do the Mussolini (Headkick)” and the immortal “Nag Nag Nag” as well as the stiffly funky, archly danceable later elaborations of “James Brown” and “Kino”. But where #7885 most clearly succeeds as more than just a grab bag of great songs is in setting out a path that makes both ends make sense as part of a whole. The fulcrum, naturally, comes in the middle; everything before the 7” version of “Just Fascination” that splits the compilation in half buzzes and seethes, insectoid machine-punk full of malicious laughter and incongruously jaunty menace like “Silent Command”. Everything after it, from the radio edit of “Crackdown On”, scrubs down and tightens up the sound; the dark humor and implicit menace remain, but it’s a different kind of nasty fun (and again, it’s significantly easier to dance to “Sensoria” than “Kneel to the Boss”).
That track in the middle ultimately feels a bit like the band in mid-transformation, attempting to enact the routines of their later work using the tools they created for their earlier songs, but it also points out how that gap, which seems relatively pronounced when looking at both ends of the arc, isn’t actually a discontinuity. Richard H. Kirk and Stephen Mallinder certainly did start folding various strains of techno into the Cabs’ music after Chris Watson left to cofound the Hafler Trio, but given the band’s own place in the lineage that would spawn industrial music, the move wasn’t so much a break as a recontextualization, and a successful one at that; fans in 1978 probably couldn’t have seen the frantic “I Want You” coming, but they had every reason to approve.
Kirk, still going after a significant pause under the Cabaret Voltaire aegis, decided to pick more accessible versions here, presumably partly to fit as many tracks on one CD/into your attention span as possible, but also to form what he calls “a kind of sound bite take on CV.” Certainly, #7885 immediately becomes the best possible (commercially released) option to introduce new listeners to the band; if they wind up wanting to hear the original albums and the extra material and longer mixes highlighted on the Original Sound of Sheffield collections, so much the better. This one should give the uninitiated a fair idea of the delights on offer; after all, it begins with a song inspired by watching people kick a dictator’s corpse and ends with one featuring sampled sex moans. One of the most distinctive and perversely loveable bands of their era, Cabaret Voltaire deserve no less of an introduction.