Electronic - Raise the Pressure
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Whether it's an unfettered Bernard Sumner or a Johnny Marr free to make merry with a hook that's responsible for 1996’s Raise the Pressure's shameless gaiety makes no difference. Both were the poptastic bastard children of their respective groups, and the combination of the two is enough to pen a song called "If You've Got Love." That's all we really need as an entry point—Sumner is as loveably indecipherable as ever, Marr's guitar, when it does appear, is as intrusive as a wounded lover hammering on Bernie's door in some swank Ibiza hotel. Which, to be honest, is where most of Raise the Pressure seems to talk place.
All of which is good, if sometimes nauseating. Strident chords, house-y piano breaks, rave-era curlicue synths, acoustic-sounding guitars through the chorus pedal, that vocoder effect, smoothly generic backup vox—all are present and accounted for. Thankfully, lush and vapid has been proven to age much better than self-consciously "relevant": Raise the Pressure is joyfully free of the trendy "ambient" touches that now date Republic as indelibly as a Notary stamp reading "1993." On the other hand, every song on Raise the Pressure is replete with hooks, bells, whistles, pacifiers, and candy necklaces; every song treads a fine line between aww sweet and ick banal; and every song raises that eternal question within the listener's mind—do I want to mount Bernard Sumner or simply choke him to death?
Dig "For You." It's a summer's kiss of a tune, charming and ripely forgettable—the kind of unconsciously-eternal tune that must descend upon you as you enter the halls of Pop's own Valhalla. "Can we meet on the street, maybe tomorrow / See the world at our feet, naked and hollow" sings the Barney. Words to live by, says I. The countrified breakdown makes me forget about the fascination I have with my own feces, says Salvador Dali. "Dark Angel" reminds you that this pair are about making some dance music, godammit, and if "love comes too late," well at least it comes with a hard-house breakdown that could fill Danny Tenaglia's trousers. "Second Nature" makes good on the New Order-gone-R&B-vibe promised by Republic's "Liar"—evilly-smooth funk so monolithic even Marr's chicken-scratch guitar can't defang it. The song itself, featuring one of Sumner's most concise lyrics, appears to be about overcoming one's own brutally self-aware past and living a life filled with the kind of cosmic naivete that's been the man's bread and butter since "Thieves Like Us."
Which, in the end is the bleeding point of this much-maligned record (i.e. to present Bernard Sumner's wordview in a series of heroic pop vignettes, every song an anthem an every anthem almost a song). If "One Day" envisions the future where naked come the nude, "Freefall" puts us right in the middle of it. It would have fared better as a single—a triple-stacked Mitsubishi tripping straight to the heart of rain / euphoria metaphoria. On an album of this length (it's 1996, remember) it might be one pill too many. "How Long" and "Time Can Tell" to the rescue, then. The former sighs over love's tenacity, while the latter has the audacity to question it outright even as it reaffirms the anthemic "work it out" spirit of the album ("Will we still be together / In a year from now / Or do we hate each other / We're gonna get through somehow"). It's one of the most accurate portraits of love-in-conflict ever painted—set to Mediterranean guitar strums and a hazy proto-downtempo backbeat, it's no wonder it got lost in the shuffle.
By itself, the sentiment of "Time Can Tell" would be nice enough—it's a hopeful ode that one might drop on the end of a mixtape made for a lover during a difficult point in your relationship. Coming at the end of an hour's worth of anthemic statements dedicated to a Love Triumphant, it's nothing short of sheer bravery. Why the acknowledgment of the ephemeral vagueness of love at the tail end of an album seemingly dedicated to founding an entire wordview on its certitude? This very notion, sheathed in the delicate armor of almost-perfectly disposable pop, is what makes Raise the Pressure paradoxically both easily dismissible and utterly essential. Much like love itself.