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The Whispering Wall

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Album Review

The Legendary Pink Dots can get toppled by their own ambition, and often their albums are murky messes hung up on some obscure concept. With two albums on the same heavy concept (All the King's Horses and All the King's Men) behind them, Whispering Wall is a casual return to the old ways and a decent entry point for anyone attempting to take the unwieldy band on. Opening numbers on Dots albums are often good indicators of what's in store, and the driven "Soft Toy" is a good sign. Chugging guitar isn't what you normally hear on their records, but it's the basis of "Soft Toy" and the first of many surprises. Radiohead would be proud to call the fairly-straightforward-for-the-Dots "A Distant Summer" their own and "King of a Small World" is faux-jazz that Queen of Siam-era Lydia Lunch would have killed for. Believe it or not, "Peek-A-Boo" sounds like the Dots at Studio One with lead singer Edward Ka-Spel out-jestering Lee "Scratch" Perry. The highlight of the album, "For Sale," is evidence that Ka-Spel has been listening to both Casino Versus Japan and Michael Nyman, one of the most polished Dots tunes ever, and a great way to introduce the band to whomever you're trying to drag to one of their shows. There's plenty of the usual wandering and the ending opus is over 12 minutes, so don't think they've lost it and gone all pop. The Dots still make everyone else look succinct but if you've ever wanted to dabble in their world, do it now.

Customer Reviews

A good album.

Overshadowed, naturally, by such efforts as The Maria Dimension and The Golden Age. Wonderful standout tracks, however..."Dominic" and "Peek-A-Boo", personally, as well as "Sunken Pleasure".

Multi-faceted.

It has often been said that Legendary Pink Dots’ music style lies somewhere among goth, industrial, and psychedelic – a rather interesting mix when you try to factor that last element in. That they rarely seem content to stay in one place musically does not help categorization, nor does the band’s ever-shifting lineup (with Edward Ka-Spel, singer and lyricist, being the main constant). They’re also a very long-running group, having been around since the 1980’s, and they show no signs of quitting. With different decades came a different sound.

The Whispering Wall – one of their 2000’s albums – is a far cry from their dark, keyboard-laden, bass-and-drum-machine style that they began with. It’s almost an ambient album, in a way – which is not to say that the songs are nothing more than the soothing “soundscapes” that many artists who describe themselves as “ambient” produce. It’s still rather atmospheric music, however, with arrangements that feel neither overworked nor overstated.

A unique thing about The Whispering Wall is that it functions surprisingly well as both a deliberate listen and a background experience. There are some albums that one sits down and listens to, and there are enough varied details spread throughout the songs to make for enjoyable listening. Of special note is Neil van Hoorne’s saxophones and other horn pieces that often provide solos or instrumental details to various songs – very unexpected for gothic, industrial, or psychedelic music. As for those wishing for something to put on as they wash the dishes or relax or stare out their windows pondering various questions of their lives, The Whispering Wall can provide such an experience as well. The songs are quiet enough to be unobtrusive, and their details are really additions instead of volume enforcements – your consciousness may stray back to the album, but it doesn’t demand your attention the way other albums might.

Even with the music’s quiet nature, the Dots seem to enjoy the idea of messing with their listener’s expectations with the inclusions of a few anomalies on the album – the hard-rocking “Soft Toy” that opens the album and feels like a less synth-oriented callback to their earlier days, the trippy keyboard ride of “For Sale”, and (most curiously of all) the jazz-sounding “King Of a Small World”. This is obviously a band that does as they will, and if they create a uniform sound, it only means that the individual songs added up to similar pieces.

If you have yet to listen to any of Legendary Pink Dots’ work, then this album may well provide an enjoyable entry point into their world, especially if more toned-down albums with significant keyboard elements appeal to you. If you are already at all familiar with the band, then you will certainly find this an interesting part of the band’s discography, if only as a challenge to figure out for yourself how it is similar and different from the other works the Dots have put out. New listeners are warned, though – The Whispering Wall ultimately doesn’t have much in common with the bands’ “classics”, and you may very easily find yourself wanting more of the same when there’s really only just more. The fact makes this record even more valuable, however, because in the long and twisting road that is the band’s timeline of recordings, this one must be considered for the distinct and unusual piece that it is.

Biography

Formed: 1980 in London, England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The Legendary Pink Dots are an influential, staggeringly prolific group led by enigmatic frontman Edward Ka-Spel. Emerging from the early-'80s post-punk underground and sometimes categorized as industrial due to associations with bands like Skinny Puppy, the group's music is nearly impossible to pin down, drawing from Krautrock, ambient, folk, synth pop, and numerous other styles. The Dots' music is by turns melodic pop and exotic psychedelia, with classical influences, sampling, and relentlessly...
Full Bio
The Whispering Wall, The Legendary Pink Dots
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