metamatic (1980) speaks to me of the consequences of modernist excesses that continue to constrain so many town and city centres in their concrete grip. remnents of the clean, bright future shock that so quickly turned sour (10 to 20 years or so) leaving fearsome dark subways reeking of piss, tower blocks of crumbing panels and needle gardens, souless neighbourhood shopping centres heavy with metal shutters and choking on litter. a country on the verge of collapse sold to the economy and selfishness.
they may at first, appear so very bright and shiny. 'plaza' is almost a hymn to queues for cinemas, seminars in lounges, giant 'hoardings of italian cars', smoke glass, outside escalators (like childhood memories of san diego, the amazement of the outside escalator!). i can almost imagine being 'on the plaza' shielding my eyes from its white concrete glare. but an undercurrent of violence exists here - 'i remember your face from some shattered windscreen' - and its meaning suddenly becomes a whole lot darker. in the offerings presented here, it seems as if john foxx becomes the machine - his voice as synthetic as the music which skitters in the background. he stands alone too on the cover, gazing blankly into a screen of bright light as he reaches to touch it. listen closely to catch the unsettling atmospheres he creates; at turns jittery, sometimes atonal, often harsh. it's not pretty even if the textures created are striking. unsettling too are the lives of the anonymous, unknown inhabitants of this dystopia - 'he's a liquid', 'someone's gone liquid in the sheets', 'melt into a mass,' 'he was a new kind of man' 'faces blurring, faces merging' 'they read the bible about a flood'. whilst the 'underpass' might represent progress it comes at the cost of collective amnesia - 'well i used to remember / now its all gone / world war something / we were somebody's son' - set to a catchy refrain. still, it's all harsh shapes, supremely masculine, no tenderness or romance to speak of - for every poetic couplet such as 'she was dressed in a white suit / she looked like a bride too' is juxtaposed with the image of 'it's a burning car.' its all too real to be escapist with the legacy of the future world experiment still mouldering around us.
at times it can be relentless, especially with two CDs worth of material to peruse, and the music can at times sound distinctly dated or reminiscent of computer games, yet it has worn quite well. i would also suggest that the themes are still pretty relevant - the cruel anonymity of the city, the feeling that violence is never far away, the fear (real or manufactured), the search for meaning in a relentlessly changing world (just look at the evolution of the ipod / iphone for god's sake). i guess it fits my love/hate relationship with the city perfectly coz sometimes even in the hideousness of grey-streaked concrete can be found beauty.