Understated Classics #23: Gorgeous by 808 State

It was quite hard to choose an 808 State album for the understated classics series for two reasons. The first is that I was introduced to 808 State quite late through a friend’s sister’s cassette copy of The Shamen’s En-Tact (the original version recorded from vinyl that had a thirteen minute version of “Evil Is Eden”) that also had – to fill out the C90 – the full length sweary version of “What Time Is Love?” by The KLF and four tracks: “Cubik”, “Pacific”, “Olympic” (I think…), and “In Yer Face”.

That early introduction only served to flag up the name and in the days when you had to wait months between album purchases (on cassette!) I didn’t really get any more 808 State until I bought “Lopez” from “Don Solaris” on cassette single mainly because, if I recall correctly, I was mad on The Propellerheads at the time and wanted their remix. I soon came to prefer the languid original though, and eventually, in 1998 I bought the cassette version of their Greatest Hits (at the time) 808:88:98. Happy days. An album so good that I tracked down a CD version on eBay a while later.

So reason number one is that my overall favourite 808 State album is that undoubtedly fan-polarising compilation, chiefly because it’s hooked in to bobbing between home and college (a good hour’s walk) believing that I was the only person of my peer group remotely interested in this music.

Reason number two is rather more prosaic. I now own five studio albums by 808 State and I really can’t decide which I like best. I also have another compilation – Blueprint, released a few years back – and even that is interesting for its own reasons (but can’t beat the heady A to B rush of 808:88:98). In the end I’ve decided on 1993’s Gorgeous because it’s the “one in the middle” and it happens to contain Plan 9, which is my all-time fave 808 State track.

I’ll spare you a track-by-track trip through the track list but you should there’s some good stuff on here, not least the aforementioned Plan 9 (a beautiful lilting guitar riff with an urgent but not over the top bass line), One In Ten (the UB40 collab that references unemployment statistics that I instead collared as my own personal bisexual pride anthem), 10x10 (the uplifting house anthem that will leave you smiling for days), Moses (featuring Ian McCulloch in the Bernard Sumner role – see EX:EL for more details), and Europa (a beautiful intro with bells and a bizarrely Stock, Aitken & Waterman spoofing female vocal). Oh and Contrique samples She’s Lost Control by Joy Division!

My only issue with the album is a weird quirk of the sequencing. There are fifteen tracks and regular readers will know that I love a short album, so I’d prefer it if Gorgeous ended with the moody drum-centred Colony (a nice eleven tracks if you don’t mind). Instead the remaining four tracks – Timebomb, Stormin’ Norman (How nineties a reference is that!), Sexy Dancer, and Sexy Synthesizer – add pretty much another EP on to the end of the album. It doesn’t help that Stormin’ Norman and Sexy Dancer are actually awful. I quite like Sexy Synthesizer though, it reminds me of Last Train To Trancentral by The KLF and perhaps its pairing with Sexy Dancer has some sort of “Revenge of the Nerds” thing going on.

Overall though, Gorgeous is a pretty amazing sounding album that has aged well to my ears, only those last two tracks (and possibly the faux saxophone of Black Morpheus) sound vaguely nineties. The rest is finely honed and stylish modern dance music that you really should wrap your ears around some time.

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· Music, 808 State, Understated Classics, Thirteen, Electronic

⇠ Lichtenstein At Tate Modern

Choucair At Tate Modern ⇢