Dancing on Thin Ice

Review of The Golden Section, 2008

Well, well Mister artsy fartsy reviewer man. Aren’t you in a spot?

What happens when you are faced with reviewing an album you’ve said you don’t like. How clever are you then, eh? Eh?

Time for some revisionist sampling, some repurposing of a theory. Let’s call it an ‘opportunity for change’. Drums roll, strings soar and tides turn. Opinions come and goes in a kind of wave.

In my defence, the crumbled cliches and over-worked niceties of politeness. All that is golden does not necessarily glitter. A weak and shifting case…

For this re-mastered deluxe edition The Golden Section has been polished till it shines, radiating its light with a new iridescent certainty that I felt has been lacking before. If not lacking, then my excuse is that I simply couldn’t see it.

First time round OK, I was complacent enough to consider myself a ‘fan’ of John Foxx, but perhaps no more so than I was a ‘fan’ of his contemporaries including Marc Almond, whose sublime Torment and Toreros eclipsed my appreciation of something as blatantly ‘commercial’ as Golden Section on an almost galactic scale.

The difference is that now – with 25 years of evolution, revision and research to call on (and some blistering advances in sound technology) I begin to understand The Golden Section.

In fact, its meaning and intention shine so brightly I’m a little embarassed to confess that I hadn’t been aware of it before. Perhaps I was just too young and innocent to fully appreciate the complexity of this album, the mastery of its rhythm structures and the nonchalant bloody mindedness of its daring experimentation.

My understanding and appreciation is enhanced so much by the masterful composition of disc 2 that it casts a whole new shimmering glow on the ‘rest’ of the album proper. Though only one of the tracks is actually ‘new’ to my ears – the twangy, sing along rock out that is “Shine On Me” – most of the rest are early, unpolished untreated versions of more familiar songs. In essence, the grit and the sand, the unpolished stones from which Zeus b Held charmed the sparkle in 1983. Disc Two reveals how things used to be, a year earlier, before everything was changed in a fortnight by the arrival of the ubiquitous Held with his cloth and beeswax.

John Foxx is at his creative zenith, pioneering electronic psychedelia with one hand and exhibiting extraordinary songmanship with the other, hitherto belied in his more familiar technological product. He is a man aflame, burning with creativity, writing with unwavering confidence, urgency and energy and with a reckless disregard for all that ‘pop’ music is meant to be. An Electro Syd Lennon, combining Beatles-esque tape loops, drum patterns and harmonies with Floydian rhythms and overdubs, rich and delicate instrumentation crashed by the trademark groans and squelches that is undeniably and unmistakably Foxx. Lest we forget, he proves himself throughout to be a facile producer in his own right and to my untrained ear, a more than competent ‘strummer’ of the acoustic guitar.

The Golden Section, particularly disc two, contains some of the most innovative, visionary and misunderstood work of his career. I know. I realise the implications. Everything crumbles to dust. The quirky harmonics and delicate instrumentation on the early version  of Twilight’s Last Gleaming, for example, present John Foxx at his most seductive and mesmerising. These glittering fragments of a tangerine dream recur in Dance with Me, A Woman on A Stairway and Sitting at the Edge of The World, all of which exhibit intoxicating spirit and depth. For this, I’m prepare to forgive the funk-infused thump slapping bass that has always irritated me about The Hidden Man and Running Across Thin Ice With Tigers. Even the groaning, roaring tiger noises have a point now, demonstrating a mode of aesthetics that I just didn’t ‘get’ before.

Throughout The Golden Section, John Foxx makes every nuance of sound count, every shiny chord and rhythm sequence, every word and every idea really matters. No one else has ever done this kind of thing with such underplayed audacity before – a genuinely adroit fusion of experimentation, psychedelia and electronic dance music, beguiled and bewitching us with the subtle interplay of clipped, perfectly structured ‘pop songs (A Kind of Wave, the Lifting Sky, Your Dress) that give this album its unifying thread.

So I stand corrected. But more with arms outstretched than cap in hand.

I turn my shamed head to the sunset and someone at my right hand whispers “Can you believe this time?”

I turn around slowly and nod, smiling, no longer afraid of the tigers.

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