Creep Show ‘Yawning Abyss’ (Bella Union)

Second Coming

What do you get if you cross a soft-rock balladeer – albeit one who wholeheartedly embraces electronics – with some vintage synth nerds? If the union of John Grant with the Wrangler trio of Stephen Mallinder, Phill Winter and Ben “Benge” Edwards initially felt a little incongruous, the collective calling themselves Creep Show were apparently more than happy to play along. With Grant being a huge Mallinder/Cabaret Voltaire fan, there was certainly an element of inevitability about their collaboration. Having first met properly at Sheffield’s Sensoria festival in 2014, something clicked, fun was had, and the four of them ended up performing as part of Rough Trade’s 40th birthday celebrations in 2016.

“We don’t really give a fuck how it goes down because it’s just an excuse to spend some time together and get a lot of laughing done,” Grant claimed around the release of their debut long-player ‘Mr Dynamite’, which scooped the Electronic Sound Album Of The Year gong in 2018.

But if Creep Show were having a laugh it seemed to be as much a coping mechanism as just four blokes dicking around. The squelchy analogue synth-funk and warped vocals of the tracks on ‘Mr Dynamite’ certainly raised a smile at times – even when Grant was recounting an unnerving childhood revenge fantasy on ‘K Mart Johnny’. With hindsight, listening back to Creep Show’s inaugural album following humanity’s general downward trajectory over the past five years, it seems remarkably prescient. Whether or not Grant’s sinister processed voice on the title track growling, “We’re going to burn everything / In this motherfucker town tonight”, was intended as a reference to Donald Trump in 2018, it now inescapably evokes the 45th President of the United States ranting away as his supporters stormed Capitol Hill.

However, the moment that really makes you wonder whether the mysterious “crystal machine” Benge talks about using in the studio was actually a scrying ball rather than a synth comes on ‘Modern Parenting’ when Grant yelps, “But no one could suspect / The mother of all storms was brewing”.

In the interim, following solo albums from Grant and Mallinder as well as Wrangler’s ‘A Situation’ LP, Creep Show clearly decided that conditions – both personal and political – were right for them to join forces again, hence ‘Yawning Abyss’. But the tone on this second offering is less dire warning than a dry-humoured, “We told you so”. Encapsulated by the title track’s central refrain: “Come sink with me / Into the yawning abyss / You’d have to be a crazy person / To assert you never wanted this”, it’s possibly the catchiest chorus about humanity’s impending extinction since REM’s ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’. The sugary synthpop backing helps the bitter medicine go down easily too, as bubbly as the cocktail you might sip beside a boiling irradiated ocean in a world where, as Grant puts it, “the autumn never came”.

The fact that Creep Show have really tightened up their act for this second long-player means they manage to maintain a tricky balance between apocalyptic lyrics and accessible tunes throughout. Where tracks like ‘Lime Ricky’ from their debut would often stumble all over the shop, the arrangements on ‘Yawning Abyss’ are based on lithe grooves more than lurching beats – see the subtle funky bassline in ‘Steak Diane’, or the crisp electro of ‘Yahtzee!’, on which Grant sounds like a robotic preacher announcing the end of days at an early 1980s block party in the Bronx.

The vocals are clearer and less chaotic too, with Mallinder in particular stepping out from behind the curtain of vocal effects he employed on ‘Mr Dynamite’. He brings the unmistakable snarl he honed as Cabaret Voltaire frontman to the fore on the sinuous electro-disco of ‘Matinee’, and also on ‘Wise’ – the closest thing to a straightforward techno track Creep Show have produced to date.

But it’s ‘Bungalow’ that really demonstrates how far Creep Show have evolved. An electronic noir ballad about memories of teenage trauma in suburban Hollywood, complete with flourishes of synthetic harp, it’s much closer to a Lana Del Rey song than the avant-industrial experiments of Mallinder’s past.

If ‘Bungalow’ suggests the influence of David Lynch, the closing track also has an undeniable cinematic quality. An instrumental reprise of the chugging opener, ‘The Bellows’ – imagine a middle ground between ‘Autobahn’-era Kraftwerk and Queen’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’ – doom-laden lyrics such as “When the bombs are dropping”, are replaced with elegiac synth lines, which feel like a chilling echo of a human voice in a landscape where people have long departed. It’s the ideal backdrop for the end credits of mankind and the perfect conclusion to a record titled ‘Yawning Abyss’. Somehow, Creep Show have made a second album that’s even better than their first – let’s just hope it’s not even more prophetic.

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