Human After All

Yes, it’s hardly out yet or anything, but after the leak on Monday I witnessed what had to be one of the most intense fracturings of opinion over a long-expected album in a while. To pick just one example, the ILM thread is only just slowing down after a week where comments ranged from “so. fucking. amazing.” to “cheated and pissed off,” and tempers were running high. There is no consensus at all about this album, and already there’s a classic out of nowhere rumor that Virgin might just cancel the release due to some of the more virulent reaction. Be funny as heck if it turned out to be true!

What all sides are agreeing on is that this is not simply Discovery redux. If there’s a vague model of reaction that can be applied, it’s that those who adored that album are feeling wretched about this one, while those who felt that Discovery had moments but wasn’t a pinnacle of life and existence (or even that it didn’t have moments) really enjoy Human After All. It’s not an exact reaction but it’s an understandable one, because where the earlier album was sparkly and lush, this is far more minimal and to the point, obsessively focused (to a fault, some might say). Lead single “Robot Rock” is the only thing like it on the album in terms of sound, a monsterrifffest that’s already my own heavy metal single of the year, while elsewhere there’s a fair amount of industrial glowering via songs like “Steam Machine” (identifying it as an NIN pastiche is spot on, just without Trent R’s vocals) and “The Brainwasher.”

Yet for all that there’s warmth — like Kid A, I’d say this is an album that is seen as colder and less, dare I say, ‘human’ than it really is, and while DP clearly are playing with audience expectation in the album title, it’s a wise choice on several levels. Three key tracks make up the start, middle and end of the album — the title cut, “Make Love” and “Emotion.” All three play a certain card of feeling with their titles and then proceed to live up to it with, respectively, an uplifting vocoder chorus, a gentle motorik kick that I think outdoes recent Air handily and a part-way-to-blissout hook.

So yeah, I like it, I like a lot and I’ve already heard it several times through. We’ll see if it sticks but if this was a mistake, I’m all for more of them being committed. But people haven’t heard the last of this yet.