Capturing 808 State at their absolute best, none of their subsequent albums quite matched Ex:El's perfect blend of art, mass appeal, and zeitgeist (one of the most common vocal samples in techno, Willy Wonka's "We are the music makers," made its first major appearance here). A major change here from past releases is the increasing variety and power of the State's percussion: beats are heavier and more staggered, embracing earlier flirtations with hip-hop and industrial music with even greater success, as heard on heavy duty groovers like "Leo, Leo." A sign of how influential Ex:El ended up being can be seen in how one of the commonest clichés of U.K. techno albums -- the guest appearance of a noted indie/alternative rocker on a track or two -- got its start from the cameo vocals here. Fellow Mancunian dance pioneer Bernard Sumner of New Order sings one of his patented gentle ruminations over "Spanish Heart," a nice piano-led number with a solid backbeat. Meanwhile, even more notably, the Sugarcubes' Björk lends her swooping singing to the lower-key but still active "Qmart" and the dramatic, flamenco-tinged "Ooops," establishing a partnership with the State's Graham Massey that would result in his working on many of her solo projects. Add to all this two of the best techno singles from the early '90s -- "In Yer Face," a subtly politicized anti-American slammer, and the almighty "Cubik" (in America replaced by an astonishing remix of the same song, the original having appeared on Utd. State 90) -- and Ex:El stands out all the more strongly. A true masterpiece.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett