If the words "Einstürzende Neubaten" bring to mind the image of angry German men banging on variously-sized slabs of sheet metal, that's understandable. Throughout the eighties and into the early nineties, Einstürzende Neubaten sat at the "difficult" end of the industrial spectrum, their metallic-sonic constructs forming monuments to modern urban-industrial malaise.
These days, the "unlistenable noise" bar has been raised well beyond the reach of Einstürzende Neubaten's efforts, which even at their most extreme betrayed a foundation in and/or functional awareness of pop music conceits. Influenced by their moods, their collaborations and the world around them, EN grew into sophisticated, often abrasive purveyors of dark, sophisticated industrial kabaret-pop.
Silence is Sexy finds Einstürzende Neubaten working in the 21st century equivalent of Brecht and Weill territory, their songs a mixture of broken clockwork and morbid sensuality. Blixa Bargeld keeps his smoky vocals to a whisper during "Sabrina (I wish this would be your colour)" and the title track, while Alexander Hacke provides serpentine bass. A live audience in Mexico City helps to finish "Silence is Sexy", providing an a capella chorus when Bargeld has finished his work. "In Circles" returns to metallic noise, but bookends it with a sullen song about molecules, while "Heaven is Honey", glittering with gentle metallic percussion, wields its central "bee" metaphor subtly. "Die Befindlichkeit des Landes" (the lay of the land) is one of the disc's most striking tracks, with an angular bass rhythm driving Bargeld's urgent narrative, broken at intervals by intricate percussion refrains.
Need something more striking? Try the sinister, forlorn "Alles" (Everything), which accelerates to a fervent, pounding rock song pace, bristling with clamorous metallic urgency (and sounds incongruously like a Sisters of Mercy song due to Bargeld's repetition of the word "Alles"). You'll also be drawn to the layered-vocal interplay and subtle Talking Heads-y funkiness of "Dingsaller".
It's also necessary to address "Pelikanol", an eighteen minute piece that comes on its own disc. Sporting a whopping eight words of lyrics (which might not even be noticed on the first listen), "Pelikanol" is more of a sonic installation than a song, and hangs its slowly evolving soundscape on a calming one-two rhythm that's half human heart, half clothes-dryer as heard from several rooms away. Things get a little odd at the end, but by that point you'll welcome the variation.
Back in the early days of Splendid, I might have defined some of our more challenging musical submissions in terms of Einstürzende Neubaten. Now I'm surprised to find myself doing the reverse, attempting to fit EN into the "experimental" continuum. While I'm thoroughly satisfied with the maturity and elegance of Silence is Sexy, I can't help but wish they'd push the sonic envelope a bit more aggressively and try to add a bit more discomfort to the listening process. I enjoyed Silence is Sexy as a way of seeing Bargeld & Co. perform their biomechanical cabaret act, but I could do with a bit more raw-throated dystopian ferocity next time...if they've still got it in them.