| Sound

Frank Tovey – Fad Gadget (2006) – Mute

It’s been said that the clearest sign of genius is to be unappreciated in your own time. Eighties musical pioneer Frank Tovey (as alter ego Fad Gadget) managed the twin feat of alienating mainstream audiences while still being one of the most influential artists of his generation. Whether you’ve heard of Fad Gadget or not, chances are his ground-breaking use of digital media influenced much of what you listen to. From dance to industrial, hip-hop to drum ‘n’ bass, this compilation of Tovey’s best work is the perfect example of an artist single-handedly rejuvenating his medium, a flow of new ideas creating whole new genres in the process. It is almost impossible to imagine the reception Fad Gadget’s four full length albums, released between 1980 and 1984, must have received. At the time, the only comparable musicians (such as Human League, Caberet Voltaire and the Normal) were more concerned with their hair and outfits than with truly exploring the new medium they were working with. To a British public coming to terms with the death of punk and a changing political environment, Fad Gadget must have sounded truly alien; Tovey’s minimalist yet intimidating live performances yet another barrier to mainstream success.

However, with machine-use now ubiquitous across all genres, any excuse to miss out on the brilliance of this record has flown out the window. And brilliant it truly is. Otherworldly synths, effects and pulsing drums form the psychedelic stellar-sphere backdrop to blackly comic, haunting vocals. Unlike the majority of dance groups that appeared in the eighties, Tovey sings with passion and intelligence, his voice recalling everything from Lou Reed and Bob Dylan to British punk and the criminally insane. His music has dated far better than any other eighties dance groups’; perhaps because Tovey managed to avoid the obsession with robots and reliance on post-Bowie over-exuberance that characterised the era. Either way, this record still sounds fresh and lively, every track kicking in at just the right moment, melodies and bass-lines combining effortlessly with effects and vocals to lift the spirits and place a smile on your face. Four years after Tovey’s untimely death in 2002, the release of this compilation provides the perfect opportunity for fans and newcomers alike to reach back in time and experience a true master of his art-form.

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