Telex – Neurovision (1980)
By virtue of its time and place in history, Telex fits in nicely with other early electronic pop acts like Kraftwerk. Neurovision shares some similarities with the work of the aforementioned band, although there’s more of an emphasis on the cheerful, poppy, banal aspects of the music. This seems to be the result of two processes – first, Telex is writing in a poppier style than their possible muses. Secondly (and this is important), Telex has a much more blatant sense of humor that permeates their songwriting methods. As a near-monolinguistic writer (My “second” language is German), I find this most obvious during the songs that are in English, but even the French-language songs (some of which did, admittedly, have English translations) sound silly at times.
Part of this is the vocalist (Michel Moers, the beardguy mentioned in the obligatory alt-text), who adopts a lighthearted tone that occasionally veers into spoken word. The songs that are in English have lyrics that aren’t blatantly parodical in nature, but seem to have been written by someone with a weird sense of humor regardless. Telex clearly did not exist in isolation, and the band members took plenty of time to mock various trends within their world – communication networks, time, even the cheeriest “fuck you” to the music industry I’ve heard in “Eurovision” (a songwriting contest the band entered with intent to place last).
The music is fairly simple in its construction, although it explores a variety of substyles and aesthetic variants within synthpop. Overall, the production reminds me of contemporary Kraftwerk, as the melodic elements come through more effectively (and forcefully) than the percussion – given the two year gap between this album and The Man Machine, this album’s drum machine comes across slightly better, but still. It might’ve broken the novelty, but an actual drum kit might’ve come in handy, since sampling wasn’t quite yet a viable option and the sort of synthesis used here is a bit anemic. To be fair, the percussion doesn’t get a lot of emphasis in the mix, and the drum patterns are usually basic, constant things that act as little more than an elaborate metronome. Considering that the melodies and vocals are more interesting than the drums, this benefits the record rather substantially.
The thing about this (and for that matter, most pop) is that when you strip away all the jokes and bloopy synthesizers, there’s not a lot of depth. Most of the songs are constructed from a few basic formulas, and it begins to show after a while. On the other hand, I can’t really complain since Telex’s intent appears to have just been to entertain people and mock their surroundings – they definitely succeed in the latter regard, and those who like synthpop will say Telex also manages the former. Personally, I have to overcome my biases to enjoy the poppier sorts of electronic music – ironically, it’s when I am least able to comprehend the message Telex is trying to send me (because it’s in French) that I am most attentive.
Highlights: “We Are All Getting Old”, “Realite”, “En Route Vers De Nouvelles Aventures”