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Greater Than One - All the Masters Licked Me / London / G-Force

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Artist: Greater Than One

Album: All the Masters Licked Me / London / G-Force

Label: Brainwashed Archives

Review date: Nov. 5, 2008

Back in the mid-to-late ‘80s, something happened to many so-called "industrial" artists – using the term in its original context, stemming from Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire and similar experimentalists. One by one, in seemingly lemming fashion, the acts fell into a discofied dance craze, culminating perhaps in Psychic TV’s "acid" techno period of the early ‘90s. For a band like Cabaret Voltaire, the increasingly danceable beats felt at least somewhat natural, as their music contained a dubby feel from fairly early on. Perhaps the most notorious side-step was SPK’s thankfully brief dalliance with neo-techno on 1984’s Machine Age Voodoo, astonishingly released by Warner/Elektra. Perhaps the most commercially successful migration, believe it or not (and one of the earliest), was that of Human League, whose coldly electronic 1979 releases The Dignity of Labour EP and Reproduction bore slight resemblance to "Don’t You Want Me" and their other early ‘80s hits.

It’s safe to say that for most of these bands, the evolution was far less successful, both commercially and, unfortunately, qualitatively. Coil’s "Windowpane,” while a perfectly good song, remained far from the band’s best (and they seemed to realize that, as their club-beat period was brief). Controlled Bleeding, who have wandered from harsh noise to symphonic majesty over the years, did their brief stint at the end of the ‘80s trying for Wax Trax-based dance success, with distinctly mixed results. Australia’s Severed Heads went from very experimental work to far more predictable efforts and never quite recovered. In that case it was via the Nettwerk label which, together with Wax Trax, seemed to be responsible for the vast majority of industrial missteps. For a time, if you saw a recognized experimental group suddenly released from either of those labels, you could reliably bank on it being an attempt at danceable beats and larger audiences. The results were nearly always unfortunate.

Greater Than One followed the same path, but were one of the more successful aesthetically (if not commercially), perhaps thanks to the fact that they, like Cabaret Voltaire, were never strangers to the power of rhythm. There are hints of it on their first works, even the first track of their first cassette release, 1985’s Kill the Pedagogue: a repetitive beat halfway between tribal and mechanical loops over buzzing noise and slowed-down incantations. There, and on many of the pieces on their first proper album, All the Masters Licked Me, the duo showed that they harnessed the power of rhythm to both provide momentum and maintain interest. Songs that would otherwise float, foundation-less, worked because of the beats, primitive as they may have been.

The first volume of the Brainwashed Archive’s program to reissue Greater Than One’s works contains three CD sleeves. The first two sleeves hold remastered editions of All the Masters Licked Me and Trust, a sort of early-works version of the former. The third sleeve is empty, save for a slip with a URL from which you can download the Kill the Pedagogue material and burn your own CD. But at least you’ll have a nice sleeve for it.

Shortly after those first works, the duo of Michael Wells and Lee Newman self-released 1988’s Dance of the Cowards, then collected it with additional material for Wax Trax, which released the double-album London. This material was far more polished, but while the production could have led to neutered disco, instead it allowed the couple to create finely-honed, subversive collages. In fact, there’s more than a passing resemblance to the equally-clever sampler constructions of Steinski. Songs like "Kunst Gleich Kapital" and "Peace" sport solid beats, but are adorned by samples of everything from military exercises to mysterious instructional records, classical breaks to ethnographic recordings.

The second volume of the reissues again has three CD sleeves in one outer sleeve, this time containing Dance of the Cowards, London, and compilation tracks from each, plus a DVD of music videos and performance projections with user-selectable soundtracks.

The third part of Greater Than One’s career, represented on the third reissue volume, shows them becoming increasingly dance-centric, with somewhat dodgier results. G-Force, released in 1989, has the distinction of sounding oddly of today, yet still somewhat off-kilter. Samples crop up from Kraftwerk (on "Alpha 5"), but the songs lack the surrealism that marked London and feel more predictable; there’s distinctly less energy, though they’re still technically impressive. Index, from 1991, is even more predictable, and while it regains some energy, the duo take things in a more acid-techno direction. Surprises still lurk, but they’re hiding among relatively mundane beats and synth stabs. Also included are the singles "Utopia" and "I Don’t Need God,” which features a truly Steinski-like collection of samples sprinkled through jittery synthetic rhythms.

These three volumes all sport new mastering, and sound far clearer than my copies of these albums, and the packaging and attention to detail are impressive. It’s surprising to see the effort put forth for a band that was never particularly well-recognized, but the work is also long overdue and welcome. Greater Than One stopped their activities after 1995’s sad passing of Lee Newman, but let’s hope that this astonishing three-volume set helps solidify their historical position.

By Mason Jones

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