Since the time when Elvis was alive and putting on weight, the British have been fascinated by the blues and soul. That fascination has given rise to all kinds of music, including some of the best pop music ever put together. So what happens when a British band with post-punk roots and ambient techno sensibilities explores the wellspring of blues and soul? Enter "FUNKY LITTLE DEMONS," the latest from The Wolfgang Press, a curious and enjoyable ultra-British techno-pop tribute to the heart and soul of rock's Delta legacy.
For those who've been listening, The Wolfgang Press have been around since 1983. The trio - Michael Allen (vocals), Mark Cox and Andrew Gray (noise) - was one of a slough of post-punk bands who reveled in murky polyrhythms produced by anything but modern rock's tired spawn: the drum and electric guitar. Their lyrics were brooding and nihilistic, and never came together to tell an actual story. It was ambient techno: all flavor, no substance.
In 1991, The Wolfgang Press edged toward soul and blues on "QUEER". The result was an album which found enough ears to sustain a couple of weeks at the top of the college charts. Their success at writing techno-based SONGS rather than sounds prompted Welsh crooner Tom Jones to cover the album's single, "A Girl Like You" (now he's asked the band to write a tune for his next album.)
"FUNKY LITTLE DEMONS" is ambient techno with a heart that follows and surpasses "QUEER." "Going South" uses the bare sound of an acoustic guitar to create an authentic funky-bluesy mood. The horns of "11 Years" hark back to Motown, and a chorus of Chicago-style backup singers round out Allen's deadpan baritone. "Christianity" and "So Long Dead" work the best: their funkier, harder edge moves the album's soulful mood toward that butt-kicking, they-might-knock-me-but-they-can't-hold-me-down place where the blues reigns supreme. The album hits you where techno only can if listened to at ear-bleeding levels: somewhere in your stomach.
"FUNKY LITTLE DEMONS" seems to show a band still in transition. But it's a strong step to a richer, fuller sound and an attempt to say something meaningful. Like the band intones in "11 Years," it's been "11 years of faking it, same clothes, empty songs." If ever that was true, those days are gone.
Wilson Van Law