We find ourselves in a hyper-futuristic landscape organized by neon grids and geometric shapes. In this world Atari is king, Tangerine Dream is the biggest band on earth, and William Gibson novels outsell Harry Potter and the Twilight books combined. Here, nostalgia for the late 1970s and early 1980s coincides perfectly with a fetishistic fascination with the future, or at least what people in 1978 thought the future might be like. Tron is a really big deal here, as is Blade Runner and Goblin.
This is the world that Maserati’s new record Rehumanizer inhabits; a place where progressive rock, vintage synthesizers, and early electronic music provide the soundtrack for hours upon hours of getting stoned and playing Space Invaders. This is all well and good, but unfortunately the genre that Maserati are paying tribute to here was perfected by 1982. If you are going to draw carefully within the lines of an established genre, it is important to give the listener something that they have not heard a billion times before or at least perform some basic function of that genre in a special way. Maserati do not quite manage either of these things on Rehumanizer and the listener finds him or herself wondering why we need a brand new record of this kind of stuff in 2015.
The somewhat lackadaisical hero worship that Maserati are engaged in on Rehumanizer is thrown further into question when we consider the excellent record that John Carpenter released this year Lost Themes. There is not a dull moment anywhere on Lost Themes. Carpenter shows the listener with consummate skill that he is still better than just about anyone else at rocking the spooky, synth-driven genre that he helped to create in the late-’70s and early-’80s. Maserati are more clearly in the thrall of Goblin and other synthy prog rockers than the more stripped down synth music that Carpenter excels at, but this really just proves the point. If Maserati still sound sleepy and uninspired with live drums and a full band, how can we place them on the same level as Carpenter and the myriad other artists that they are imitating?
Rehumanizer is still a fun record and Maserati are clearly skilled musicians. I am sure there are die hard devotees of late-’70s synth music who will get a kick out of Rehumanizer. There will, however, be many more listeners who cannot think of any good reason why they should listen to Rehumanizer rather than pull out their old copies of Tangerine Dream’s Stratosphere or Goblin’s soundtrack to Suspiria. There was a time in the late-’90s when bands like Add N to X and Air fiddled around with this type of sound, but even back then it seemed a little bit too ironic and nostalgic. There is nothing wrong with working a beloved genre and working it hard; however, if faithful imitation is substituted for inspiration and energy, the results tend to be kind of underwhelming.