Album review

Death In Vegas : Scorpio Rising
Concrete / BMG

Death In Vegas : Scorpio RisingDeath In Vegas first caught my attention a few years ago with the unkempt beats of the single Dirt. Dirt's parent album Dead Elvis offered up a cloying collage of rock, reggae, dance and trip-hop. Even back in 1997, when the mix 'n' match sound of big beat was at its peak - thanks mostly to the output of labels like Skint and Wall Of Sound - it was apparent that Death In Vegas were offering something a little left of centre.
    In '99 Richard Fearless and Tim Holmes delivered on the promise of Dead Elvis with the dark and claustrophobic Contino Sessions. Rarely do I resort to enthusiastic gushing about an album, but I consider Contino Sessions to be a stone-cold classic. It's hard work to begin with, but the rewards are well worth the effort. From the almost casual Flying to the Iggy Pop fronted masterpiece Aisha, Contino Sessions is an empowering, but wholly unsettling experience.
    So that's the history, and despite some good chart placings I think it's fair to say that Death In Vegas have never really gone overground - Fearless and Holmes' output is just too disturbing to wow daytime radio. This, I consider a good thing.

So what of Scorpio Rising? Well, like Mick Jagger I've got mixed emotions . . . The Siamese duo of Leather and Girls make all the right noises - Stooges guitar and Eat To The Beat-era Blondie keyboards blending into Dirge-lite vocals - but fall short of actual emotional involvement.
    The soundclash stylings of the single Hands Around My Throat prop up Nicole Kuperus' Gary Numan-esque vocals with a lot of the elements which made Aisha so great . . . but when you engineer a comparison like that you know you're going to fall short.
    23 Lies is the highlight of Scorpio Rising for me. Susan Dillane sings breathily over comparatively bare instrumentation . . . think Massive Attack's Teardrop and you'll understand why I like it so much.

And now for the lowlights . . . Liam Gallagher on the title track; which has the structure of an Oasis song, not a Death In Vegas one. Why? If I wanted to listed to Oasis I'd buy an Oasis CD. Scorpio Rising begins to undermine the mood that this album in struggling to build.
    The final insult is left to If You Say You Lost Your Baby, who's retro sound and choice of guest vocalist was never going to sit well with someone who has an unfounded and irrational distaste for anything Paul Weller has involved himself in since The Jam. The fact I wasn't expecting it made it all the more traumatic.

On Scorpio Rising, Death In Vegas have conciously moved away from the claustrophobia of their previous efforts. I can't help but think this was a mistake; the most engaging tracks here - such as 23 Lies and the closing Help Yourself - are the ones which are closest to the Death In Vegas of old.
    For artists like Richard Fearless and Tim Holmes, 'playing to your strengths' might not be the most challenging - or even commercially rewarding - approach to take, but when your strengths can be so utterly beguiling it would be a tragedy not to exploit them.

:: Rowan Shaeffer

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