Nitzer Ebb – EbbHead
Building on the changes evident in Showtime, Ebbhead finds the group — assisted with an extra percussionist and produced by both Flood and longtime boardsman Alan Wilder — bringing their new fascination with more traditional song approaches to greater heights. Douglas McCarthy’s lyrics are now much more of a story/narrative kind than the endless commands of the past, while his voice, if still sometimes intentionally strained, shows much greater fluidity and range than before. Similarly, the killer arrangements by Bon Harris show even more detail and variety, whether in the core rhythms or additional melodies. That said, some songs are clearly the product of the band’s roots — “Lakeside Drive,” odd descending synth riffs and swirls aside, is fairly straightforward in comparison to other tracks musically. Meanwhile, “DJVD” finds the duo experimenting with hip-hop delivery, but with decidedly mixed results. But if the album is a touch uneven in the end as a result, its high points — which unsurprisingly were also the singles — are flat-out unassailable. “I Give to You” is as close as any English band has gotten to the Wagnerian/industrial pomp of the Young Gods and Laibach at their most classically minded. Starting with a simple two-note sample loop and slowly mutating into a massive string-swept/beat combination, its icing on the cake is McCarthy’s almost yearning lyric of submissive action. Meanwhile, “Godhead” also grabs some Young Gods action, but in this case in the guitar sample/overdrive sense, building up to some serious riff delivery while McCarthy hints at some decidedly unusual practices with a partner. “Ascend” eschews the strings but has much of the intensity of “I Give to You,” living up to the title by rising toward a louder, ever-more-fraught conclusion. American editions of the album included a remixed version of the “Family Man” single as a bonus cut.