This is the best album that represents the worst parts of the American 80s from an outsider viewpoint before any of those things ever happened: the discovery of AIDS and subsequent fear (and not necessarily fear of AIDS), the induction of Ronald Reagan into office who remained there for the rest of the decade, steadily rising crime rights; each of these things addressed implicitly by both the lyrics and the sonics; the angular guitar attack, pummeling bass lines and foreboding atmosphere of post-punk never making more sense than it does here. If only these guys never had an album cover worth putting on a t-shirt or a frontman who killed himself, right? Then maybe publications who ignored them or weren’t around the first time would have bothered.
Every song except closer “Desire” is a goodie because every member does their part, with Adrian Borland singing all of these songs like he’s lived through them, with Graham Green’s bass lines elevating even the minor numbers into highlights, but I direct you to Bi Marshall’s economic use of synthesizers, always playing one or two notes throughout each song, nudging the sparse “I Can’t Escape Myself” to Adrian Borland’s guitar solo and the song’s climax (where Borland shreds the same chord over and over like he’s ripping himself to pieces). Elsewhere, Marshall adds an unrelentingly eerie atmosphere throughout “Night Versus Day” with a high-pitched sound throughout and helps bolster the choruses of “Words Fail Me” with synthesized horns. And the album’s brilliantly sequenced, constantly alternating between its slower pieces with its catchier songs, like the new wave of “Heartland,” the aforementioned “Words Fail Me” or the anthemic “Heyday” and “Resistance.” But the best song is the album’s centerpiece “Missiles,” which might be the most terrifying song I’ve ever heard, slowly culminating to Borland becoming more and more unhinged until he’s screaming “WHO THE HELL MAKES THOSE MISSILES, WHEN THEY KNOW WHAT THEY CAN DO?!” while missiles explode all around him.