There’s something inherently amusing and simultaneously embarrassing about musical attempts to capture and describe the act of sex. Don’t get me wrong… there’s plenty of music out there that is intrinsically sexy, and on some level sex and music are inextricably linked by their very natures. But what any one person finds sexy in music tends to be highly personal, and the variations are as many as there are kinks and fetishes.
But there’s something special about an album that is, well, explicit about its focus on sex — good for a laugh like a horrible B-movie. Ranging from the camp of the Cramps to the raunch of 2 Live Crew, it never comes across as truly sexy; instead it just seems like a joke. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of club-happy dance music. No amount of voice-tracked moans, sighs, or simulated orgasm is ever going to convince you that the sentiment is real. The particular chemical reaction of erotic attraction is simply not something that can be automatically induced by simply talking about sex and throwing a beat under it.
Of course, some acts have walked a fine line between pornography and parody with great success. If it weren’t possible, groups like My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and the Lords of Acid would be entirely forgotten. But the way they get away with it (when they do at all) is a sort of confused irony — you know it’s campy and corny, and on some level the band is simply playing along, but because they’re playing at being campy and corny, they get to pretend the horny is real, acting it out in reality for the sake of the act. Metasexual!
That doesn’t mean that plenty of club nights aren’t filled up with head-bopping, body-popping kids earnestly trying to let the beat and the dance and the sweat and the booze and the drugs and the lights lure them into a state of hedonistic trance, stimulating in a real sense a body heat that’s truly sexy and might actually lead to sex. And the soundtrack to that club night — be it house, goth, or disco night — is certainly a crucial element. But those clubbers have the total sensory experience to assist them, mitigating the fact that plenty of the music is going to sound cheesy as hell out of context.
And that’s where Crème De Menthe comes in. Despite the fabulous title, there’s nothing so intellectual or philosophical about The Impossibility of Eroticism in the Suburbs. It is, at its best, club fodder, pure and simple. And even more damning for the casual at-home listener, it’s club fodder that’s trying way too hard to be about kinky, plastic, technologically precise sex. I have no doubt in my mind that a fetish fashion show without such music would fail miserably; it’s a component element. But unless you’re throwing a BDSM party behind your own closed doors, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever throw this on at home.
Crème De Menthe — AKA Matthew Aldworth — probably understands this, so that makes it okay, but at the same time you have to wonder about the execution on this disc. Aldworth’s dedication to the classic techno and electro sounds of the ’80s is admirable, but it makes the whole production seem needlessly retrograde. Yes, classic computer voices have their own throwback vogue, and sure, emulating flat ’80s club vocals in a faux-krautrock manner might be all in good fun (amazing how much better the German-language bonus track sounds in this style), but there’s the sneaking suspicion throughout that Aldworth wants you to take this seriously. The press on the album states: “For a progressive take on power, voyeurism, control, sex, and synthetic clothing, strap yourself in for the Crème De Menthe experience.” And therein lies the source of embarrassed amusement.
On a techno, club-worthy level, The Impossibility of Eroticism in the Suburbs offers little in the way of special interest. The programming (most of which is handled by Mysterymen) is pretty standard, and in terms of beats and rhythms, this is music tailor-made for DJs, with plenty of open spaces to play with cross-faders and mixes. It’s not until the eighth track, “They’re Hot”, that we even get a synth melody worthy of real notice, though I will say that it’s a pretty damned danceable slice of techno. “Crack the Burning Whip” has its moments, and the album includes the 2001 club hit “Plastique” to give it some gravity, but outside of the basic toe-tapping, most of the tracks come across as fairly disposable. There’s a fun sense of listening to late ’80s dance music, but it’s nothing you couldn’t get by tracking down originals from the era.
But as a soundtrack to fetish porn, this is a pretty trite and obvious excursion into the world of BDSM, and even then only marginally well thought-out. The Impossibility might play well as a soundtrack to a rubberdoll orgy — I’m (unfortunately?) not in a position to speak from personal experience — but it seems like it would work best when Aldworth lets the synthpop and hard techno beats do the talking, and not the corny lyrics meant to dredge up images of Robert Palmer video girls in leather who like a good spanking. Even Madonna’s “Erotic” was more titlating.
Again, though, that’s the problem with this kind of music, ahem, stripped out of a larger context. Without the club sound-system and a deft DJ behind it, the music sounds thin and simplistic. And without a room filled with grinding bodies and hopeful ambition, listening to these songs is like stumbling onto a friend’s cheap porn stash — awkward, unintentionally funny, and something you’ll soon try to forget.