Nitzer Ebb never Made It. They came close many times, but they were always slightly too abrasive, too spiky, to dent the charts. And to play music that heavy without guitars was practically suicide to those of closed minds.
"Body Of Work" - a 2disc retrospective spanning 1985-1995 - sees their 19 non-hit singles lined up in chronological order and backed with a second disc of remixes. From the violent assault of `Let Your Body learn' to the final, almost sensuous `I Thought', all it proves really is that The Ebb were always just not quite obvious enough to dominate the charts : the relentless barrage of shrapnel-like percussion, punctuated by short vocal orders - whilst massively influential and effectively shaped the early work of better known names like Derrick May, and Trent Reznor - is certainly by no means chart-friendly. Or friendly at all. In a moment almost beyond parody "Join In The Chant" relies on a humourless hymn of "Lies! Fire! Gold! Guns!Church! Muscle! And Hate!", which sounds like po-faced Chelmsford Marilyn Manson covers act.
Later material manged to become slightly more complex, including things like verses and choruses and even melody. Choice cuts from their biggest CD "EbbHead" sees songs you can almost hum along to in `Ascend' and the still-thrilling string-laden epic `I Give To You'. A three and a half year sabattical from the studio - and the rise of Britpop - effectively castrated their career in indecision. Ten years later, "Body of Work" still sounds wonderfully alien, as if made from an alternate universe where pop sounds violent and a little bit scary. But by no means does resemble anything even vaguely like `An Introduction To..' : "Body of Work" is the audio equivalent of the end of a Sam Peckinpah, a violent assault on the senses, a miasma of plasma, machinery, and aural carnage.
It's no wonder they never got their Big Hit. At the time, their videos made about two minutes of screen time every six months on `The Chart Show', and their singles always sat in the bargain bin of Hobdays, my local independent record shop. Despite numerous chances - they supported Depeche Mode, they were on Mute, they sounded like a spiky cross between Nine Inch Nails and Kraftwerk - The Ebb never quite managed to be anything other than idiosyncratically visercal.
And then, in 1995, after ten years of minor notoriety and small sales, they split to no fanfare during the height of Britpop. Whilst the world was caught up in no mark scum like Menswear and Powder, they quietly fell to pieces. Like an EBM version of The Pixies, their legacy was a small number of albums, and the knowledge that everyone who had heard them formed a band.
Whilst it's impossible that "Body Of Work" will resuscitate interest in them, or give them the wide appeal that eluded them during their lifespan, it also provides a tidy and effective history lesson to those who like to explore the far reaches of music : the pioneers who shaped the sound of Detroit's electronic music and underground dance music the world over were listening to stuff like this. And it still sounds contemporary now.
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Well, this collection of Nitzer Ebb singles has been on the cards for a couple of years.It finally surfaces at a time which feels apt as there is now an increasing interest in EBM (Electric Body Music) again, which can be seen in the popularity of Terence Fixmer et al. Listening back to this stuff today it can be heard that Nitzer Ebb were godfathers of a 'heavier' style of dance music (long before the Prodigy and Chemical brothers first entered the arena). Indeed, some of the earlier material ('join in the chant', 'control i'm here') rubbed shoulders with more conventional balearic fare in Ibiza in the late 80's/early 90's. They didn't trouble the chart compilers much in the UK (I think 'godhead' got to number 50 ) but they were massively popular in the USA ('Fun to be had' made number 2 in the US dance charts). So much so that none other than Depeche Mode invited them onto the 'Music for the Masses' tour. This 'Belief/Showtime' era was the pinnacle of their career in my opinion. Although a strong album in it's own right, Ebbhead, which contained the yearning, orchestral tour de force 'I give to you', left Nitzer Ebb souding as if they were confused at where to go next. In fact they started to sound like bands that they themselves had influenced (Nine Inch Nails in particular!). After that, it was all down hill. 'Big Hit' in 1995 (I think the typographers missed an 'S' during the sleeve design) yielded only 1 good song (Kick it). They had veered into a sludgily unfocused, industrial mess and that was, pretty much, that. This release could have gained 5 stars in my review if there was a little bit more 'rare' material on it (the Renegade Soundwave remix of 'Lightning Man' springs to mind) and also if some of today's dance and EBM producers had been given a chance to weave their remixing magic on these tracks. All in all though, a fine introduction for the Nitzer Ebb novice!
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