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Metal Boys - Tokio Airport

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Artist: Metal Boys

Album: Tokio Airport

Label: Acute

Review date: Apr. 30, 2004

The Acute label is dedicating itself to two channels of reissue forum: the Glenn Branca axis, and French punk/new-wave. Following the label's Métal Urbain reissue of late last year is post-Urbain outfit Metal Boys’ Tokio Airport album from 1980. Eric Débris and Charlie Hurbier form the nexus of the outfit, fleshed out by mysterious English vocalist China. The sound on the recordings shares headspace with Métal Urbain’s machine-rock, though it trades in the single-minded purpose of Urbain’s music for a more inclusive sphere of activity, which proves to be both its strength and its downfall.

Tokio Airport stumbles at the first hurdle: lyrics and vocals. As with a lot of post-punk, or ‘avant new-wave’, the Metal Boys’ occasional lapses into lyrical dogmatism are hardly becoming: it’s not the content/context of the lyrics, but the way they’re rendered. Large parts of Tokio Airport are rather gauche, evoking the ‘just-out-of-college’ clumsiness that hamstrung a lot of post-punk artists. You can find a similar cringe-worthiness in the Gang of Four’s well-intentioned-but-slightly-trite class struggle polemic, The Pop Group’s Nietzschean abandon, and the declamatory surface-intent politics of some of the Rough Trade label crew. Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether that light, broth-of-language political rhetoric is, at least, easier to swallow than lyric-as-personal-indulgence, but tracks like “X-Mas Day” or “Suspenders in the Park” lose out on text.

But the Metal Boys generally win out on sound. There’s something obdurate about their songs, a completely unyielding fascination with the analog sound processing and the eternal endless pulse of Teutonic technology. “Carbone 14” sounds as future-perfect, yet completely of its age, as the early works of Severed Heads, or the Human League’s The Dignity of Labour EP; in these recordings you can hear DIY tactic grappling with then-modern electronics. The final bonus tracks, “Disco Future” and “Outer Space”, stretch things further - manic, streamlined gushes of sound breached by China’s mantric repetitions. The liner notes here want you to believe that songs like “Carbone 14” and “Suspenders in the Park” could be dropped in some electro-clash club without anyone batting an eyelid, but drawing that parallel skips the rock/punk part of the equation. The Metal Boys, like their predecessors Métal Urbain, were never rigid about ‘opposing all rock’n’roll’. If their relationship with the Rough Trade label contextualized the band within the feverish non-/anti-rock action of the post-punk collective, Debris and Hurbier were never shy of throwing a monstrous riff into their songs, roughed-up through tinny, overdriven production. The Ramones meets Cabaret Voltaire? Perhaps only for a few songs, like the opening “Colt 45”, but they make for nice jolts of energy among Tokio Airport’s more ruminative instrumentals, and the side-glances at warped pop, cabaret, and various other forms. If the record fails at any point, it’s thanks to the neo-new-wave stumbling of songs like “Wah Lee Bomp Dee Bomp”.

Were the Metal Boys prescient? That depends on how you view the tributaries that have run from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Electronic/industrial exploration has been taken up again by acts like Wolf Eyes, the post-punk/disco micro-revolution is being revisited by The Rapture, the itchy guitar non-pop by Erase Errata. But the Metal Boys’ aesthetic was too combinatory to be mimicked or followed, and modern practitioners of this music are too caught up following only one path to interpolate other genres into their constructs. And even if Tokio Airport is much less than perfect, if it falls and loses its way, doesn’t manage to fully transcend its era, it still sounds like little else.

(Oh, and the soon-come reissue of Eric Débris’ Dr Mix and the Remix’s Greatest Hits album, I’d queue in torrential rain for that.)

By Jon Dale

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