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Dec 10

ADAMSKI – “Killer”

Popular72 comments • 5,010 views

#645, 12th May 1990

From Yazoo onwards, collaborations between electronic musicians and soul singers have followed certain protocols. The singer is the star, the living presence on the right-hand side of that “featuring”: the producer is the mood-setter, the collective. Human vs robot, emotion vs rhythm, soul vs body, warm vs cold, blah vs blah. It’s not that the resulting records have been bad – smoky voices and harsh synths do sound terrific together – but the rules of engagement were laid down early and hard.

“Killer” shows us a different approach. What was startling about the record in 1990 – and what lets it keep its charge now – is that the music simply refuses to get out of Seal’s way. In fact, if you only knew Seal from the rolling smoothness of his latterday career “Killer” would come as a real shock: here he is, making his debut not as a highfalutin’ loverman but as an isolated paranoid battling through a tangle of wires and buzz. Adamski is truly as much the star here, putting together a tense, crisp piece of house music which doesn’t actually need his singer to be memorable (though surely needed him to reach number one).

The nature of the game becomes apparent very quickly: when Seal sings “Will you give, if we cry?” and as he emphasises “give” the keyboards suddenly flare angrily up, a surge of 303 squelch almost drowning him out. From then on the track matches him blow-for-blow for a while, backing him up with the snap of martial hi-hats then upstaging him with harsh acid textures. Both sides have moments where they relax – that house piano break (which dates the record badly, since it fits the song far less well than it did “Vogue”) and Seal’s widescreen musings about racism and sons of future kings. He’s never been the most comprehensible lyricist – but on “Killer” it doesn’t matter at all, since the meaning and meat of the song is all in the co-dependent struggle between voice and sound.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    Billy Smart on 1 Feb 2011 #

    #60 B-but that list has THE BEST POP THING EVER ‘Chime’ on!

  2. 62
    Paulito on 2 Feb 2011 #

    You’re right Billy, “Chime” does still sound pretty good. I remember reading at the time, probably in Smash Hits, that it was the cheapest-to-make top 40 hit yet recorded. It cost them 28p to produce, or something like that.

  3. 63
    swanstep on 2 Feb 2011 #

    Chime is new to me…. and I’m really enjoying it. I recognize many bits of Chime, however; I think everyone from Rammstein to Mu-ziq to Chem Bros (and probably many others) has borrowed from it.

  4. 64
    Steve Mannion on 2 Feb 2011 #

    Other tracks from that Now! side very much standing the test of time for me: ‘Talking With Myself’ and the brilliantly gonzo ‘Everything Starts With An E’ ramping up the aesthetic of their mates S Express in style. Both these tracks were originally released the year before iirc.

  5. 65
    swanstep on 3 Feb 2011 #

    @#64. Thanks for the recommendations. Both those tracks are new to me too and I like them both a lot.

  6. 66
    DanielW on 3 Feb 2011 #

    I remember this song being the first record that I positively willed to get to Number 1 that actually DID! A truly magnificent single that blew me away the first time I heard it and still sounds excellent now (probably because it hasn’t been overplayed – infact I can’t remember the last time I heard this song on the radio)

    Was disappointed when the follow-up single “The Spaced Jungle” turned out to be bloody awful…

  7. 67
    stueeavfc on 4 Jun 2011 #

    I remember buying the 12″ on the first day of release and thinking ‘I hope this goes to Number One’. It’s that bassline and the sort of strangeness about it.. Adamski should have stuck to doing what Vince Clarke did at one stage and just looked for good vocalists to sing on his tunes.

  8. 69
    seekenee on 20 Mar 2013 #

    Always liked this one. Saw Admaski play this at a multi band thing in Dublin late 1990 with (I think) a disembodied Seal vocal.

    #33 – Gary Barnacle (sax) played on London Calling and a bunch of early Style Council

  9. 70
    hectorthebat on 17 Mar 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    Mixmag (UK) – Nominations for the Greatest Dance Track of All Time (2012)
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The 100 Best Songs from 1990 to 1998 (1999) 73
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 100 Songs from 1984-1993 (1993) 55
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 4
    Melody Maker (UK) – Singles of the Year 9

  10. 71
    Paulito on 29 Apr 2015 #

    Returning to Tom’s review and his well-observed analysis of the yin-yang template for electronic vocal/instrumental duos: is there an even earlier prototype than Yazoo, in the form of Soft Cell? Or is it too much of a stretch to describe Marc Almond as a ‘soul’ singer? I’d certainly wager that Almond intended his gutsy (if rather wobbly*) vocalising as a fusion of soul and torch-song cabaret.

    *I seem to recall a great one-line gag in Smash Hits back in the day: “The answer is (c) Marc Almond. All the others are singers.”

  11. 72
    Mark M on 29 Apr 2015 #

    Re71: I’d argue not, and that Marc Almond’s vocal frailty and indeed (at that stage) tendency to tone wobbliness was integral to Soft Cell’s charm. Couldn’t be further from Moyet’s bulldozing Essex blues power, which I never really enjoyed.

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