Minimalismus ist ihm ein Gräuel. Seine Popsongs sind wahre Prunkbauten, in denen sich der Sound machtvoll wie in der Kirche, im Shoegazer-Dickicht oder wie auf dem ersten Album von Propaganda auftürmt. Davon kann er nicht lassen, auch dieses Mal nicht. Allerdings ist er jetzt bemüht, innerhalb des Areals der gefühlvoll konstruierten elektronischen Popmusik zu bleiben. Er achtet mehr darauf, dass seine Liebäugeleien mit Indie-Rock, Techno oder psychedelischer Plusterung nicht zu sehr ausarten. Von dieser Reduzierung profitiert das Album. Ein klug kolorierter Koloss reiht sich an den Nächsten, wobei der Schwerpunkt schon mal zwischen epischem Trance-Pop („You Will Find A Way“) und Dark-Disco mit härteren Beats („I Heard Them Say“) wechseln kann. In dieser Form gibt es so etwas sonst nicht. Andere Produzenten tendieren entweder eindeutig zu Clubmusik oder zu Pop. Chapman schwebt dagegen hartnäckig auf seiner Wolke der Träumerei.
That said, there are subtleties to be had here, and some of the songs experiment with deviations in volume that are quite interesting. And, strangely enough, the most striking examples come at the beginning and end of the record. At the start, “A.M.A.” begins with some head nodding boop-bip beats and comes off as being a more robotic version of the style of synth music that was popular 30 years ago. But, then, about mid-way through, Chapman pulls the rug out from underneath the listener, and the song becomes startlingly quiet. It’s an audacious change, and you can’t help but sit up and pay attention, unsure of what direction the artist is about to embark on next. On the other side of the fence, the album closes with the funeral dirge “Adjusted to the Darkness”, which, despite its Goth-y overtones, sounds remarkably joyous at the same time; it’s also striking because it’s so different from the material that precedes it for nine songs. It’s a little long, a caveat about the album as a whole that I’ll get to in a moment, but it does leave an impression because it effectively draws the shades on the synthy anthems of much of Vicissitude. It’s stark and startling, and it does leave you breathless at its fragile beauty.
However, there is a fundamental flaw to the proceedings and I can count it off by rambling on about song titles and their running length. “Built to Last” is indeed just that as it clocks in at six minutes and 14 seconds. “You Will Find a Way” finds a way to run for six minutes and 18 seconds. “Nicholas” is six minutes and 37 seconds long. “Left Behind” leaves the radio friendly pop single in the dust by coming in at five minutes and six seconds. “Insignificant Others” is a significant five minutes and 54 seconds in length. And on it could go with pretty much the rest of the album. James Chapman is in terrible need of an editor; not that going long is necessarily a bad thing at times, but the album reaches to be epic and just winds up prattling on beyond the point of natural expiry. The song “Nicholas”, by way of example, consists virtually of the titular character’s name being chanted over and over by Chapman, which is just overkill at more than six minutes.
The sheer overlength of the LP deflates any kind of poppy goodwill that it tries to build up, and Vicissitude is an example of exhaustion: too much of the same, dolloped like an extra scoop of ice cream on a cone that causes the whole mass to topple over, leaving you all sticky and teary-eyed for losing some good eats. In the end, what you can say about Vicissitude is that for a record supposedly about change, there’s not nearly enough of it.