Gives greater context to Foxx’s transformation from his guitar-focused time with Ultravox into the solo electronic practitioner.
The largely instrumental tracks of Concrete and Organised Noise, recorded by John Foxx at the same time he recorded his first solo album Metamatic in 1979, had already been released as part of the debut’s extensive multi-disc box-set reissue in 2018 but here they’re bundled into a stand-alone package, available in limited-edition grey vinyl. Foxx’s work will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in the development of synthesizer-oriented popular music. While he was there at the beginning of synth-pop, he has actively avoided the popular nostalgia circuit, continuing to explore new avenues for his interests and fascinations. This set reveals that those fascinations were there from the beginning, evidenced both by the track titles and by the music.
Long sweeping synth pads and crystalline electronic flutters evoke urban environments that suggest both the near future Vangelis brings to his score for Blade Runner, and the reimagined post-war past Gary Numan would explore in I, Assassin and Dance. At the same time, the whispered influence of J.G Ballard is never far away, suggested in “The Uranium Committee” or “Alamogordo Logic” and explicitly referenced in “Terminal Zone” or “Burning Car.” There’s a mixture of purely instrumental “organised noises,” some of which appear to function as a kind of autonomic segue where “A Frozen Moment,” “Glimmer” or “A Version of You” play out as though Foxx’s studio was simply left to its own devices, testing sounds and simple rhythms with an absence of echo, reverb or distortion giving the overall sound a very pure, and thus inorganic, feel.
“Fragmentary City” utilizes more sweeping synth pads to provide a platform for a simple, unadorned piano motif and shows that even as he was in the process of devising the machine-oriented sound he’d become known for, Foxx was also considering the kinds of nearly-romantic gestures one finds in songs like “Europe After the Rain.” The instrumental version of “He’s a Liquid” reminds one of just how strange the song was upon its release as part of Foxx’s first album while “Metamorphosis” bubbles along like an escapee from Raymond Scott’s Manhattan Research. “Burning Car” and “Miss Machinery” are the only tracks to contain Foxx’s vocals, which he seems to treat as dispassionately as any other sound source, and while “Miss Machinery” would transform into “20th Century” by the time it was originally released, “Burning Car” is, even in this earlier draft form, as urgent and dismayed as the version that would eventually be released.
Ultimately, Concrete and Organised Noise gives greater context to Foxx’s transformation from his guitar-focused time with Ultravox into the solo electronic practitioner. One can glimpse snatches of Foxx’s own listening with slight nods to Cluster or Roedelius in places, but the end result is the emergence of a unique and powerful style that, even in these drafts and sketches, is exploring sounds in the way Ballard uses words, conjuring futures that, bleak as they may be, are also stories of the present that surrounds us.