Dark Music of Quality and Distinction, Vol. 3

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With Ian Craig Marsh leaving Heaven 17 around 2008, British Electric Foundation -- the synth pop group's side project/production wing -- had essentially become Martyn Ware, a founding member of the pioneering H17 who also just happened to help form their sister group, Human League. Even with Ware alone, B.E.F. have returned, as Dark (Music of Quality and Distinction, Vol. 3), is so shockingly faithful to the spirit found on 1982's Vol. 1 and 1991's Vol. 2, that Heaven 17 fetishists are likely to gush over its attention to detail. Here, high camp, once again, meets stark new wave that's recorded in wet reverb, all as a series of vocalists are ushered through to perform B.E.F.'s quirky idea of standards. As the space age bachelor pad titling of the series implies, these albums come off as smirky revues where some vocalists transcend the kitsch, while others succumb to it. Boy George completely submits to it and treats Iggy & the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" like a call to a sex line, phone voice sound effect and all. Noisettes' singer Shingai Shoniwa applies a Betty Boop chirp to Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows" on a love-it-or-hate-it rendition, while Heaven 17 vocalist and B.E.F. regular Glenn Gregory's take on the chestnut "It Was a Very Good Year" is a fruity drink at some eerie new wave lounge where Ware has filled the synthesized house band with paranoid robots. Gregory's take on the Associates' "Party Fears Two," on the other hand, is one of the album's most sincere and moving moments, and while its proper home is here, it is lifted from Heaven 17's 2008 album Naked as Advertised. New bits of greatness come from Scritti Politti's Green Gartside (passionate and plush on the Delfonics' "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time"), Erasure's Andy Bell (absolutely pouring himself into Kate Bush's "Breathing"), and former Long Blondes vocalist Kate Jackson (turning Blondie's "Picture This" into a dreamy, fragile ballad). Twenty some years in the making means this one is a tad big, but niche new wave of this quality and distinction is rare, so forgive, or maybe celebrate, the album's love of overindulgence.

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