Information Society was, essentially, a one-hit wonder in the late 1980s with “What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy)”, but the group’s debut self-titled disc went platinum and the band was a synth-pop act that was the American counterbalance to European groups such as EMF and Jesus Jones. So they are notable in that regard. To this day, the group reputedly has a loyal fanbase in places such as Brazil, Spain, Japan, and Mexico. So it is with welcome arms for those fans still around that _hello world has come into being, as it is the first InSoc (as the band is known) album in some 20 years to feature all three stable members from the classic late 1980s lineup: Kurt Harland Larson, Paul Robb, and James Cassidy.
How does this record sound? Well, Information Society — a group that originated in Minneapolis, but moved to New York City once fame beckoned — is still partying like it’s 1988. However, there is also a contemporary sound to the record, so it is as though the outfit has a foot in a time machine, and a foot in the now. What’s more, this is a surprisingly good disc: the group shows that they have enough gas in reserve for what might be a very welcome comeback. After all, anyone who grew up watching MTV as I did (I’m Canadian, but my parents had a grey-area satellite dish that picked up American channels unavailable north of the border) knows that InSoc had catchy songs that you could move some booty to, as well as colorful videos. While this trio may be a product of a certain day and age, it’s nice to hear that they aren’t interested in rehashing old glories, necessarily.
“The Prize”, in particular, starts out with a robotic voice and synthesized laughter, along with some laser beam gun sounds, before transmuting into a full-on electro track. There’s a hard edge to the song that shows the trio expanding beyond their radio-friendly formula. And I’ll be darned if it just doesn’t put a big smile on my face. “Where Were You”, which immediately follows, sound like Depeche Mode around Violator, just with a bigger bite. There’s a toughness to the track, and if you tried to chew it off, you’d probably lose a couple of teeth. “Get Back” is glorious techno, and, had this song come out in the mid-‘90s, you’d be sick of it because every single club on the planet would be playing it. However, and that leads to another point, the group also has its sights on homage, as there’s a cover of Devo’s “Beautiful World” that features guest vocals from that group’s Gerald V. Casale. To be honest, I’m not sure if it really works, as it is a giddy throwback when much of what surrounds it is pretty brutal sonically — not quite industrial, but not the pretty band we knew circa 1988. It’s also a bit on the silly side, but, then again, the album is also calling out for some levity, so it is, in a sense, a welcome respite from the embrace of subwoofer-rattling synths conveyed earlier on the disc.
There’s also a bit of a misstep in “Jonestown”, which references the 1978 massacre of more than 900 innocent people who were members of the Peoples Temple cult. “How does it feel? / There’s still some life to steal / Down in Jonestown,” is the refrain. While I don’t think Information Society is necessarily making light of the tragedy, and, yes, this event is more than 35 years behind us (which means that we all should just move on already), it’s hard to reconcile the brightness of the music, which is pop-oriented, with the dourness of the lyrical conceit. So, no, I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid here (or Flavor-Aid, look it up — it was used at Jonestown in possibly bigger quantities than its more famous competitor) by loving this album with an uncritical eye, just letting nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia carry me away. Still, there are nice touches on _hello world, such as the vaguely Indian (as in the country) instrumentation on “Dancing with Strangers”, which also incorporates Aboriginal (as in the indigenous peoples of America) chants after the chorus. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, and shows both a sense of vague irony and careful consideration to crafting two desperate strands together that offer one big play on words. I also love the vinyl-scratching sounds (probably done on keyboards) that wax over “Let It Burn”. There are many subtle pleasures to this album.
This all adds up to make _hello world a rather well constructed reintroduction to the Information Society sound. It’s almost as though they are still as vital as ever by moving forward into uncharted territory, but also allow those simply interested in reliving their youth have a good time — often within the same breath. These guys are clearly talented, and have, in the past, done things with their albums that have put them on the cutting edge of technology. (Their 1992 disc, Peace and Love, Inc., featured a track consisting of modem tones that, when played into a telephone connected to a computer, revealed a message from the band.) While _hello world doesn’t offer such technological tricks, it’s clear that the outfit knows just where they stand in the pop culture landscape. They want to move forward and offer thrills to those interested in the new, but also keep things familiar to those who would rather that InSoc keep pumping out songs such as “What’s on Your Mind (Pure Energy)”.
That’s a hard balancing act, but Information Society do a pretty deft job of it here. While some may scoff and think this is a group best destined for the State Fair revival circuit, you can appreciate the fact that its members have healed whatever rift was between them and are content at marching to the beat of their own drum machine. _hello world is an appreciable re-introduction to a band, especially for those of us who were, unfortunately, merely content to watch their videos on a descrambled satellite channel and not go out and purchase the album they were shilling at the time. Considering the group’s diehard appeal, one can only hope that _hello world broadens the group fanbase to include those of us who sadly missed out the first time around.