Cabaret Voltaire

The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord

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Named after a radical right-wing American organization -- and possibly for that reason simply retitled The Arm of the Lord in the States -- Covenant, self-produced by the group at its longtime studio Western Works, is something of a curious release. While not much like Code and the group's absolute nadir, Groovy, Laidback and Nasty, Covenant still subtly indicates the band's incipient spiral into fairly unremarkable late-eighties mediocrity. Call it a use of already-cliched musical touches copied from others where before Mallinder and Kirk invented sounds everyone else ripped off, but whatever the reason the Cabs here start being less special and more run-of-the-mill. The balance perfected between sheen and punch on The Crackdown and Micro-Phonies is still here, but the stripped-down power of that latter album in particular gets disguised here by intrusive synth-pop and hip-hop elements. Sometimes such new fusions work -- "I Want You," with an amusing vocal hook provided from a favorite Cabs vocal source, a TV/radio preacher, has just enough breathy energy and attractiveness to stand out strongly. Many other tracks betray the titular fascination with America, God and guns the Cabs exorcise here, such as the introductory samples to "Hells Home" and "The Arm of the Lord" itself. Other tracks have definite moments in general, like the quirky combination of percussion on the instrumental break of "Golden Halos." Mallinder gets in some sharp, rumbling bass work at points, and his understated but clear vocal approach still serves him well, while Kirk packs in quite a few fine electronic touches throughout. Still, though, there's just something about this album which feels a bit half-cocked -- fans will find something to enjoy, but first-timers should turn elsewhere.

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