The Official Secrets Act

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It was hardly a surprise that the follow-up to M's debut album didn't contain a song as groundbreaking as "Pop Muzik" -- or a tune that was anywhere near as big a hit as his one and only global chart-topper. Instead of trying to duplicate that near-perfect slice of electro, M (aka Robin Scott) veered off in several directions, exploring a slightly rockier sound as well as a fair amount of experimental noodling. The core band is the same as on New York, London, Paris, Munich -- including future Level 42 frontman Mark King, keyboardist Wally Badarou, and session saxman supreme Gary Barnacle -- but the looser arrangements here give them more room to stretch out (sometimes too much), and they get occasional help from strings and even Uillean pipes. Yet if the sound of Official Secrets Act isn't quite as futuristic as its predecessor, Scott's lyrics preach pure sci-fi paranoia, heavily Orwell-ian and as obsessed with corporations and governments as Big Brothers. When the tunes are good, and a few are, it all makes for entertaining theater; "Official Secrets" jumbles synths and guitars into the sort of colorful, surprise-filled mix Scott was a master at assembling, and the suave French synth pop of "Abracadabra" is equally appealing. It's the meandering atmospherics of cuts like "Transmission" and "Mayday" that frustrate; the deliberately uninvolved sound suggests Scott was determined to run as far away as possible from his Top 40 success. Which he ended up doing, but the more focused efforts here show he didn't have to. Collectors note: The 1997 reissue of the album contains six bonus tracks that feature frequent M collaborator Brigit Novic, including a couple of keyboard-heavy keepers.

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