Music | Album Review – Hard-Fi & Actress
The mere existence of this Best Of is somewhat troubling as it likely comes down to a cynical decision made by the band in order to squeeze a few more precious quids out of (let’s not kid ourselves) album-cover-sake and first album ‘Stars of CCTV’. Or indeed it could be a cynical decision made by a record executive who wrote it into their contract. Either way it flies completely in the face of the ideals that the band have made a career singing about.
I would have happily looked past this if there had been any attempt to editorialise the band’s output. The tracks appear in what is effectively chronological order and in most cases appear roughly in the order they appear on their respective releases, suggesting a blatant disrespect of both the material, and the fans.
Of the “new tracks”, one is from Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and at the time was notable enough only to feature on the deluxe edition of the soundtrack. The latter is indeed a 2014 song (solely justifying the title of this collection), one which could have been released during any point of the band’s previous ten years output if only it had a little more gall.
A good ‘Best Of” recontextualises an artist’s output, while still achieving that titular goal of representing the best of the band. Though the track selection is fine, the manner with which they’ve been put together renders the whole thing utterly pointless. I just hope the band didn’t come up with the name.
How to appraise Actress’ new record seems to rest upon how you view the basis upon which it is conceived – the press which accompanies the record presents “the artist slumped and reclined, devoid of any soul”, with the album purporting to be the end of Darren Cunningham’s artistic output. The problem with this as the basis for an album is that it rests upon the notion of a lack of ideas as being a worthwhile idea. The opener, ‘Forgiven’, is a thickly distorted, ominous piece which, in its obscurity, sets the tone for the first few tracks on the record. The fourth track, ‘Rims’, typifies this approach in the 30 seconds which consist simply of a kick drum and rim click right in the middle of the track – it seems like a challenge to the listener, an ironic artistic comment on the “pseudo artists” the aforementioned press release maligns.In other places, Cunningham’s self-awareness manifests itself in ways which are more engaging, such as in ‘Gaze’, with its melody and strings which seem lifted from elsewhere and foisted upon the distorted, crackly beat which underlies them. Likewise, the piano chords seem squashed into the track, leaving it resembling distorted 90s house. And on the album closer, there is a shift in tempo as ‘Rule’ takes a rap sample and twists it over some slightly disconcerting chords in another example of Cunningham’s ability to craft pleasingly knowing deconstructions, something which is outweighed by the kind of ironised lack of ideas which prevail on this album.