SPK – “Machine Age Voodoo”

I found this record the other day while flipping through the random used vinyl over at Silver Platters. I quick online search described SPK as “industrial”, and that was good enough for me. (It turns out I had heard at least one of the band’s songs before, as “Metal Dance” is on the compilation Trevor Jackson Presents: Metal Dance (Industrial / Post-Punk / EBM Classics & Rarities… and that song is also on this record as well. Go figure.)

When I dropped the needle on it for the first time, the first few seconds of the opening title track seemed to confirm that this was indeed industrial, at least in the way industrial sounded in 1985. But it didn’t take long for the song to transition into something different. It still had that sort of electronic vibe, with the obligatory 1980s keyboards and the metallic, tinny electronic drums… but this isn’t industrial. More like new wave, or maybe just weird enough to lean towards post-punk.

There’s actually a decent amount of biographical material about the band online, but suffice to say that 1985s Machine Age Voodoo was SPK’s major label debut and the one that caused industrial fans to wring their hands and accuse SPK of selling out. Ah yes, the dreaded “sell out,” the accusation leveled against bands that have cred with a small group of fans when they suddenly either make a more broadly approachable album or, even more confusingly, when the do what they’ve always done but for whatever reason suddenly become popular. A lot of bands have had that label dropped on them. Hell, I’ve heard Metallica’s Master of Puppets album described as a sell out. Whatever.

But back to SPK and Machine Age Voodoo. Regardless of what genre you want to apply to it, it’s a pretty decent mid 1980s pop album, back when you could still be a little edgy and get airplay. “With Love From China” has a great hook, and “High Tension” with its repetitive vocals is catchy as hell. “One World” closes out side side A with more of that clanging, industrial, and random sounding percussion, sewn together using some simple keyboard patters and having life breathed into it by the female vocals of Sinan Leong (who is the primary vocalist on the album).

“Flesh and Steel” opens side B with, what else, but a burst of the obligatory mid 1980s saxophone. I swear, the mid 1980s were the zenith of the saxophone in popular music. But there are some metallic sounds here too, both in the percussions and sampled as well, so it keeps the sort of dark new wave post-punk thing going.

Overall Machine Age Voodoo is an enjoyable album, especially for someone like me who started discovering music for the first time right around when it came out – this reminds me a bit of some of the stuff I was seeing on MTV and hearing on the radio. I’d be curious to hear some of SPKs earlier, more industrial work, so I’ll need to keep my eyes open for them when I’m out digging.

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