To call Artificial Madness a “comeback” for Chris Connelly might be overstating the case. Some such as this critic were enthralled by the Scottish singer’s first three solo records—Whiplash Boychild (1991), Phenobarb Bambalam (1992), and Shipwreck (1994)—only to gradually drift away as Connelly indulged an ever more diffuse artistic muse inspired by the avant-garde, latter-day work of his hero, Scott Walker. But this new release from the former member of Ministry and Revolting Cocks is a most welcome development.
Artificial Madness is driven by a shit-hot, driving rhythm section and some alternately grinding, chiming, jagged, and shoegazer-like guitar textures (the backing unit includes members of metal doomgazers Wolves in the Throne Room and Minsk). The music takes up where one might have expected Connelly to head around the time following Phenobarb Bambalam, the record in his oeuvre closest to this one. To speak plainly, Connelly rocks out here, kicking ass like he hasn’t allowed himself to do in years, and the result is liberating for both the singer and his audience.
Inspired by a loose theme based on the alienating effects of modern technology, Artificial Madness takes off like a 747 with the pounding, pulsating title track, which then morphs into the even more intense “Wait For Amateur,” the best 1-2 punch this writer has heard on any album this year. Throughout, Connelly draws upon various vocal personae from his career to this point: he alternates a David Bowie-esque croon with a Scottish-brogue inflected, spoken-word approach on the shifting, doomy “The Paraffin Hearts” (“the only way to tell us apart / you have to take a flame to our paraffin hearts/ And whichever one decides to ignite/ Decadence won’t make it right”). On the blazing “The Goner,” Connelly briefly evokes his Ministry/Revolting Cocks days with some dirty, distorted vocals.
With bands like Public Image Limited, Killing Joke, and Connelly’s own Damage Manual as sonic reference points, excellent tracks like “Classically Wounded” and “Compatibility” evoke the early days of alternative music while simultaneously sounding fresh and inspired. “The Subjects,” meanwhile, starts with a poppy electric guitar riff that soon morphs into a full scale punk rock assault. The more romantic rocker “Imperfect Star” would have sounded at home on Shipwreck, while “The Modern Swine” seethes with the singer’s dislike for our overly wired world.
Overall, Artificial Madness is an exhilarating ride. If you ever loved the early solo work of Chris Connelly, but thought that guy was gone forever, think again. This one will thrill you and make you care once more.
–Johnny “Gutter” Walker