Today’s POP RESCUE from certain obscurity, is the 1990 Bassomatic album Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Bass, produced by William Orbit. Is this album like a well guided mission, or is it set to crash and burn? Read on…
This 12 track album opens with lead single In The Realm Of The Senses, a track that stalled in the UK charts – reaching #66. The layers of synths remind me slightly of some of the 90’s Erasure tracks (think Love To Hate You). The song isn’t particularly memorable – it’s like a huge swirling blend of nice outer space kind of sounds, but with little order. Vocals come from Musgrave (aka Sharon Musgrave), and she gets plenty of vocal samples throughout. It’s just a shame that there’s not much more than catchiness about this.
This is followed by the title track Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Bass, a play on the Pink Floyd 1968 track Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun. In fact, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters gets a writing credit here alongside William Orbit’s long time collaborator Laurie Mayer, who also provides the vocals on this song. This track is brooding, like Pink Floyd’s track, but this one is loaded with synths. At times it fills in the mysterious gap between Kula Shaker and some of the more forgettable Ladytron album tracks.
Third track is the group’s biggest hit, and only track to enter the top ten (#9!) – Fascinating Rhythm. I remember this song coming out and adoring it. I played it countless times on my Now That’s What I Call Music 18 double LP until it wore out and became too crackly. It sounded unlike most of the rest of the chart offerings of the time and unlike anything else on that record, and it was rightly a hit. The opening vocals from Musgrave ‘faaaaassccinnaaattting rhythmmm‘ sets out the slinky, chilled out sound of the song. This song is flawless, and just as it was on NOW 18, it is unlike anything else that’s gone before it on this record.
Rat Cut-A-Bottle follows this, seeing Musgrave continue on the microphone, and joined by MC Midrange on an impressive scat and beat-box section about 3m 15s in, and MC A-Side with a rap towards the end. This track is laden with nods to reggae, and 60’s sci-fi television show samples. There’s a familiar gurgling synth at times that reminds me a lot of some of Orbit’s later work with Madonna. Essentially, this has little that is catchy about it, but also has nothing in it that could irritate.
Next song Love Catalogue comes slinking in like a late night jazz number with some wonderful Hammond Organ whilst a phone rings in the distance. It feels like something you’d hear in Grand Theft Auto whilst driving on the bad side of town. Sadly it only lasts 2m 17s.
Next up is Zombie Mantra, which starts with a heavily sampled Lizzie Tear giving it a war cry intro. Eventually a piano manages to find its way into the room, and by 2m 30s some funky brass are added to the mix (instantly reminding me of Cypress Hill‘s hit Jump Around). The song also features Sonique (presumably on loan from S’Express) on ‘transcendental loop-groove’ whatever that is. Don’t expect to find anything to sing-along to here, it’s another collection of sounds.
This is followed by Freaky Angel, which starts off gently with some synths and percussion, throwing in a bass drum before a hi-hat and bassline arrives to take over. Eventually Musgrave returns on the vocals. Whilst she’s got plenty of space to show off her vocal diversity, her lyrics aren’t particularly inspiring (mostly ‘freaky angel‘ repeated).
Wicked Angel is up next, and this starts off promising, feeling like a fully fledged song. It starts with a sample, and builds with synth strings, bass, and beats… but whilst it builds, it turns out that aside from those samples, there are no vocals. This leaves the song feeling like it’s begging for someone to come along and write a set for them. It sounds nice, but it seems to sadly fade out feeling unfulfilled.
Ninth track is third and final single Ease On By which is a nice slow number, with some great beats. The vocals are light and soft here. At times, it sounds like Neneh Cherry is singing, although it is actually Musgrave again. The track plods along, with a funky smooth bassline that accompany the warm vocal harmonies perfectly. Sadly this single stalled at #61 in the UK charts – it deserved better.
This is followed by My Tears Have Gone, which starts off with a great set of beats and brass samples. This is soon joined by Laurie Mayer’s vocals and some more Hammond Organ. Mayer’s vocals dreamily waft throughout as an enchanting bassline joins in to sew it all together. This is quite a nice little song.
Penultimate track In The Realm Of The Senses (Funky Paradise Mix) follows, putting a greater tempo to the track. This version feels like it brings the song together a little more into a more rounded track. Musgrave’s vocals are tucked away a bit, but the over-all mix works well.
The album closes with a remix of the hit Fascinating Rhythm (Soul Odyssey Mix), which by contrast is pretty much an instrumental, but sounds fantastic, with plenty of that gurgling synth, tinkling piano, an infectious bassline, and that riff. It’s a nice chilled out way to end this album.
Where are Bassomatic now?
After the release of this album and it’s singles, the group released one further song that managed to chart in the UK in 1991 – Funky Love Vibrations, but it stalled at #71, becoming their lowest charting single to date. They released their second album Science And Melody in 1991 but it failed to chart in the UK.
William Orbit would go on to work with a wide variety of artists, most notably Madonna on her Ray Of Light and Music albums, two albums for Blur, and several tracks for All Saints‘ album Saints & Sinners.
Over all, if you’re coming to this album as a fan of Fascinating Rhythm, like I was, then you’re going to be disappointed. Sharon Musgrave’s vocals are a treat though, so if you enjoyed that from their lead hit, then you’ll at least enjoy that.
This is early William Orbit, early Dance music, and so whilst it’s loaded with some great sounds and ideas, they just feel a bit premature here.
Fascinating Rhythm, Ease On By, and Love Catalogue will probably be your favourites, whilst the rest is a bit too easy to forget, and proving not to be at all fascinating.
- POP RESCUE 2015 RATING: 2 / 5
- 1990 UK CHART POSITION: #57
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.99 from a British Heart Foundation store.