"Dream Orphans " (Album, 2007)
As it was April last year with the twenty one year gap between live performances, so it is with the release of Tik+Tok's second album. Twenty three years is a long time to wait for a second album by anyone's standards. Rabid T+T fans (many of whom live in Japan) are probably beside themselves with this release. For those who simply salivate at the prospect of their return (I include myself in this second classification) this is a long-overdue new chapter. For the remainder less infected by the original Tik+Tok sound this is still likely to raise the curiosity far more than most releases would, such is their cult cachet.
Since major chart success eluded them first time around (this despite names like Gary Numan, Richard Burgess and RRussell Bell gracing their 1984 landmark debut Intolerance) the two robotic Englishmen are probably under no illusions about the potential of their comeback. And this is apparent in a surprisingly personal (almost introverted at times) set of compositions. Never ones to take themselves or what they do too seriously, I wasn't quite prepared for the numerous, experimental forays into ambient and soundtrack territory. Delighted at the results but surprised nonetheless.
Opening track Dream Orphans is a mood-setting instrumental that wouldn't sound out of place on the b-side of Bowie's Low and very much sets the tone for the first half of the album. Even Tokyo Girls, which on the face of it suggests potential single material, is a more direct translation of personal experiences than a pop song in any traditional sense. Tunes were always Tik+Tok's strong suit and this album is full of them. This counterbalances a tendency encountered on the preceding EP for the compositions to wander unconventionally. This works for the most part but sometimes comes across as a lack of focus or direction; although the magpie tendency to directly reference key influences, be they cinematic, musical or cultural, keeps these excursions into the outer fringes unpredictable and (oddly) strikingly original. No-one else out there sounds like these guys. You can't honestly say that very often.
For my money it's the less up-tempo/chilled/soundtrack/etc. pieces (cf. A Strange Special Circumstance, Long Bright Morning) that succeed the most. The major exception being Intolerance V, a sequel of sorts to parts I-IV which appeared on that debut album. Here though, the only point of reference for the uncommon but convincing combination of breakbeat percussion, ghostly female chants, and lightly distorted lead male voices, is Martin Bowes' Attrition - a project that was also active when Tik+Tok first emerged in the early 1980s. Time4Us is the archetypal Tik+Tok song. Drawing on the foundations of Show Me Something Real (from Intolerance), it perfectly blends their self-referential lyrics, sharp melodies and melodious vocals, dance beats and more reflective moments to rapturous results.
Much of Dream Orphans sounds essentially like a set of instrumental compositions. When lyrics are employed it is often to punctuate rather than dominate the music in much the same way as another instrument or sound might. At other times the lyrics more overtly express the fun, anything goes attitude of the band. Rarely do they seek to be profound. To entertain seems the main concern, and this they do repeatedly. The final hidden track is an indulgent orgy of reggae, unsubtle references to Tik and Tok's 'salamis', and fart gags! Good to know that a quarter of a century on the boys haven't lost their crude and sleazy edge.
Dream Orphans is a completely unpredictable journey from start to finish, but like most such adventures the results are uniquely memorable and demand repeat visits which shed light and insight into the subtle details of a diverse and brave come back. 7/10
Rob Dyer (July, 2007)
"Slightly Deranged" (EP, 2005)
Like their brief appearance at this year's Elektrofest festival, if you weren't lucky or obsessively watching the Net for the return of this 80s duo, this self-released EP sneaked out at the end of last year may easily have passed you by, and that would certainly be a shame. For a couple of exhibitionists, Tik and Tok sure seem to like to play it cool. Not sure why as, on the strength of this new material, there's nothing to be coy about.
The remarkable thing about this four-track EP is how it manages to be at once a natural progression from their last release back in 1984 and yet still sound entirely contemporary. Keeping the connection over the intervening twenty-plus years are a compulsion to make you want to dance, often to the sound of females clearly 'enjoying' themselves ;-), some funky guitar grooves, and some extremely catchy hooklines. From Gone Sparky, which shares the most genetic structure of (and snippets of lyrics from) its 80s predecessors, through to personal favourite Stimula which comes across like incidental soundtrack music to a European arthouse SF film - this is a wild and unpredictable (but always stimulating) journey.
Weaknesses are few, but the unusual structures do sometimes create a feeling that some songs are still partly developing. It will be interesting to see which of these make it onto the new album promised by Tik+Tok, and if so in what final form. I wouldn't be surprised if they are worked further still. In the meantime, and given that it has been more than 20 years since their last material, fans of old and newcomers alike should lap this up. Terrific production too. 7/10
Rob Dyer (July, 2006)
Official website: http://www.tikandtok.com