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Theoretically Chinese

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Album Review

Tong's final solo effort, or at least the last one that has seen any sort of formal release, Theoretically Chinese is at times quite an intriguing attempt at an art-pop/dance effort, mid-'80s vintage. Most of the album is essentially a collaboration with ex-Associates member Alan Rankine, and if Theoretically Chinese isn't a hysterical classic on the level of Sulk, say, Rankine brings shimmering energy to the album that pays off in spades. The sparkling "Endgame" and the moodier "Reports From the Heart" are fine pop through and through, with Tong's smooth, often underplayed singing at the center — he rarely takes over a song, instead easily flowing with the arrangements. Throughout the album Tong touches on everything from lyrical references to George Orwell ("Big Brother" — not a cover of the Bowie song, though Tong himself owes a debt to Bowie's crooning style more than once) to a fine enough reworking of Marianne Faithfull's stellar "Broken English." This perhaps takes on a new level of meaning given Tong's long-standing interest in his Chinese descent and American upbringing, also addressed via his calling another song "Yellow Peril." One song, the almost-title-track "Theoretical China," is a supergroup jam of sorts, with players including New Order's Stephen Morris and Jah Wobble, but it's a touch overcooked, Tong sounding a bit forced on the verses. LTM's reissue, as is par for the course with their efforts, includes a fine essay on Tong from label boss James Nice as well as three bonus tracks — an Italian remix of "Broken English" and two collaborations with Belgian singer Niki Mono. One, "The Hunger," is a striking tour de force, a quarter-of-an-hour-long effort done in collaboration with a number of Japanese musicians.

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