The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


A review of the album 'Understanding Electricity' by Official Secrets Act

Understanding Electricity by Official Secrets ActReview Snapshot: Reasonable debut from the London art-rockers - with synth-stylings of the New Romantic era allied to the post-punk guitars of Franz Ferdinand, this release suggests a decent future for the group. However, given the lack of moments of true genius, one wonders if this album will truly catapult them into the indie stratosphere.

The Cluas Verdict? 6.5 out of 10

Full Review:
Good God, it’s like the ‘80s never went away. The last time the country struggled through such an economic crisis, the airwaves were populated by a plethora of dubiously-attired, synthesizer-based acts.

Arriving on the scene with their meticulously-coiffed hair, Adam Ant facepaint and clipped English accents, it would be very easy to dismiss Official Secrets Act as an anachronism, a hark back to a bygone age of legwarmers and Spandau Ballet. (Although they’re back too, aren’t they?) Delve a little into their album, though, and one realises that, whatever about originality, there are enough tunes here to hold one’s attention.

‘Understanding Electricity’ opens with ‘Mainstream’, a reasonably catchy, mildly diverting piece of saccharine pop, but it’s not until the second track that the album really takes off. Powered by Alexander McKenzie’s fierce yet disciplined drumming, the single ‘So Tomorrow’ is one of the standout tunes. Possessing an insistent chorus, it might just be enough to keep this band around for a while, although, given the flaky nature of the music industry at present, that may be a forlorn hope.

The songs are compact and well-produced, characterised by Thomas Charge Burke’s high-pitched singing and Lawrence Diamond’s inventive basslines. Throughout, there are frequent references to the group’s most beloved decade – ‘Hold The Line’, with its references to Japan and “playing guitar to Tears for Fears”, nails the (Official Secrets) act’s colours firmly to the mast. ‘Bloodsport’ is akin to a slowed-down version of A-Ha’s ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’.

The highlight, however, is the epic ‘Momentary Sanctuary’. Opening with an ominous-sounding bass rumble, it’s a tune that simmers intently for three minutes before finally uncovering its true colours in the final two. As strings are introduced, the song segues into a fantasy-like sequence, with Lawrence Diamond stepping up most impressively to the microphone and delivering a beautiful, Chris Martin-like (no sniggering at the back) vocal. If there is to be a second album, we’ll have more of this please.

The main stumbling block for this album, however, is the gimmicky nature of some of the music. Like alcohol, a synthesizer is all very well if used responsibly, but in recalling every cheap electronic sound from Depeche Mode to Erasure, Official Secrets Act have left themselves ripe for ridicule. Burke’s vocals, while distinctive, can grate on repeated listens. His lyrics can also display an annoying naivete at times: “Take me back to the mainstream”, he pleads on the opening track. Back, Thom? Probably best to arrive and leave first, before returning.

In summary, it would be unfair to be overly harsh on ‘Understanding Electricity’. Slightly derivative and over-glossy fare it may be, but there are a lot more melodic hooks here than you would find on most bog-standard indie albums of today. And, in all honesty, if The Kooks can sell millions of records now, then why not these guys?

Mark Townsend

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