Three tracks into the Departure’s debut album, David Jones reminds us that he’s only human, but by then, it’s already too late — way past the point of credulity. Dirty Words, the first full-length effort from the Departure, is a marvel of modern engineering, a record so devoid of warmth and human emotion that you’d swear it was conceived in a test tube. No blood coursing through these veins, just Freon and anti-freeze. And this is perhaps the Departure’s bizarre achievement — in an era of bands obsessed with the glassy disembodiment of Joy Division, the Departure are the first band to nail Curtis’s alien menace, to wipe away the last identifiable traces of the human artist.
In pursuit of their goal, the Departure have not only delved into the past, conjuring up the ghosts of long-dead ’80s bands, but have also tapped into the political paranoia of the Reagan/Thatcher era. Atop the clanging, martial rhythms that surge behind him, Jones paints pictures of a world seen through modern devices — television sets, camera lenses, mechanical eyes. The Departure’s world is a kind of Marxian distopia, where humans have become mere instruments of their industrial offspring. (From their first single, “All Mapped Out”: My eye’s a camera / my feelings film / One hour to develop into my own newsreel.) Jones”s flat, monotone delivery certainly owes a debt to Curtis and his more modern derivations like Paul Banks of Interpol; however, his peculiarly affect-less baritone somehow manages to convey an even icier detachment than either of those two references might suggest.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the Departure’s chilly aesthetic works to Dirty Words‘ detriment. Few, if any, albums are celebrated for their shiny veneer. Yet Dirty Words’ accomplishment lies in its superficiality: its pristine, immaculate finish. Thank producer Steve Osbourne and mixer Alan Moulder, who together help the Departure realize their stadium-sized ambitions. Dirty Words sounds not so much a product of a band but a borg collective — an album created by beings that are fascinated by the human experience even if they have become too alienated from it to do it justice. It’s humanity communicated via Orwellian dispatch.
The album opens with “Just Like TV”, a tune so unabashedly huge that it would make even the Music likely blush. However, the Departure aren’t playing it for laughs. Instead, the song soars from peak to dramatic peak, unfettered by any consideration outside of flaunting its massive chorus. From there through the record’s first half, the two guitarists, Sam Harvey and Lee Irons, take center stage, trading serrated guitar lines and surf arpeggios.
They finally nail their sound on “Arms Around Me”, the most overt nod to their ’80s predecessors on the album. Beginning with a foreboding, Depeche-Mode like intro, the song abruptly disintegrates into pulsing bass while Harvey and Irons’ guitars tic and peal with an echoing, U2-like clarity. Equally as impressive is “Changing Pilots” — constructed from a loping, sinister bass line and Jones’ muffled and gagged vocal. The sense of dread is both palpable and disconcerting — disconcerting because Jones sounds calmly resigned as the music engulfs him. The second single, “Be My Enemy”, similarly corners Jones, grafting on guitar after guitar until a swarming buzz completely overtakes the Departure’s frontman.
The Departure continue to heighten the tension through to the last track, which serves as both the album’s climax and its crowning gem. Bass and drums beat in unison. The guitars spar with lacerating quickness. And Jones delivers his lines in perfect extraterrestrial timbre. The last 30 seconds, in particular, as the guitar lines dodge drummer Andy Hobson’s punching rhythm, are among the most thrilling you’re likely to hear on a rock record this year.
It’s easy to mistake the Departure’s mechanical, eerily disconnected approach for a lack of passion; however, while the band may be devoid of emotion, they are clearly committed to what they’re doing — it’s evident in every meticulously assembled note. To call them human would be nothing more than an insult. This is the real red scare.