REVIEW: Nothing Inside – “Decay” & “Fall”

By Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Chain Border

DecayIt would probably be safe to assume that at one point or another in our lives we all dated/cohorted with that significant other who submersed in black, sat Indian-style in a dark bedroom with only a lit candle atop a now-defunct tape player, moping in miasmic bliss to The Cure's Japanese Whispers or The Jesus and Mary's Chain's Psycho Candy. Some or most of us may have been sad gloomy Goths, or still are. Ahh, the days of alternative glory, before Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell demanded we quit bitching in our private hellscapes (only to wallow in their own later down the roads of their careers), the days when Bauhaus and Joy Division carried our bipolar depression upon their messiac shoulders. Hey, the Violent Femmes were pretty upbeat in that deliciously autoerotic way, but the anthem eternal was undeniably The Smithereens' Blood and Roses. Return now, to those golden years of post-modern fuguism, with Atlanta's Nothing Inside.

Listening to Decay and Fall in succession, it's plain this trio of synth spinsters have been on quite a disturbing journey. The former, released in 1997, and the latter in 2002, are a pair of offsetting electronica dirge opuses, bitter and nihilistic in one, oddly conventional and angst-laden in the other. At first glance at the reminiscent wiry hair of band leader, Rome Clegg, one is tempted to scream Robert Smith poseur. Even more reminiscent to The Cure is Nothing Inside's sound, yet listening to these albums it is apparent Clegg and his cohorts, Mike Coleman and Chris Camillo, have an agenda: to memorialize the woebegone alternative sound of the eighties through a nostalgic yet monstrously eclectic electronic voice.

Decay is a brutal, nihilstic venture that screams "Warning! Danger! Danger! Will Robinson!" with the opening notice samples of Wych: "Please press stop on your disc player," and "Don't underestimate this kind of music." Duly noted, gentlemen. As Host unravels between a shaky cross between Dead Can Dance's Serpent Egg and The Cure's Pornography, Nothing Inside's craft is so blatantly tributary, yet thoroughly enjoyable, even with its harsh overtones. The title track redeems the theme while flirting with a Trent Reznor motif that quickly delves into the dispirited Seversister, an exploration of dark love with an ethereal coating of astral vocal tracks supplemented by Clegg. Clegg tends to lullaby the listener with his tainted, sometimes apologetic spirals of anger, exhibited on Postmortem Reality, and Yellow which features a New Order-like tweak to underscore the relentless acceptance of death messages repeated throughout the disc. Hammer, on the other hand, refreshingly features killer Ministry scrapes and scratches that suggests the band to apoplectically say "we're not responsible for any after-effects."

Clegg seems to be so put-out by his comparisons to Robert Smith that he appears on a mission to outdo his predecessor. For M is the only cheerful ode of Decay, yet lyrically countered by a sharp, satirical, deadpan narration; still, the song climaxes in a breathtaking manner, almost as if to atone for its direness. The Sweetest Song is another New Order dance number stymied by doom samples to avoid it getting too yummy; Clegg's violent whispers call an eye for an eye vengeance that heaves into Dead Crosses, a somber mark of finality. The synths call to mind passings, new beginnings, transition. With the assistance of wife, Mindy Clegg, Rome narrates the foreboding dream of death on Dead Crosses. Those who lived their teenage existences humming Depeche Mode's Black Celebration will gleefully embrace this album, which concludes breathtakingly with the highly artistic X19, a keyboard odyssey that rips asunder and drives a hard, industrial finale ushering a funereal note of despair. A cold feeling, to be sure.

FallIn contrast, Fall rings like an act of penance, less hateful and far less cruel. It fails to take as many chances as Decay, both lyrically and musically, but by the album's end it finds its heart. Maturity or hesitance? Who's to say? Fall is filled with every bit of angst as Decay, yet Clegg's rants are pinpointed towards the world's leaders and corporate music, or to quote the liner notes, "contempt and pity for self-absorbed individuals." A bit trite, perhaps, but Clegg's vision seems to be more focused this time around, and he's hip with the times; instead of venting about an unhealthy romanticism with death, Fall chooses to make a statement, albeit he does it in less flamboyant fashion.

Used to Be Cool is a safe New Order homage with a sensible dance beat, more intricate vocal arrangements than heard on Decay, while exhibiting the same desire to blow raspberries and lift middle fingers; though doing it quietly behind backs instead of in-your-face as on the latter album. The music seems stripped down a bit in the first half of Fall, as if Nothing Inside is afraid of overexerting themselves, hiding safely in a reserved manner as Heroes displays, reminding of Depeche Mode's Exciter. Certainly enjoyable, but a pale shade of what was once there. Burn This and Principa Mechanica are likewise conventional with a nyeh-nyeh waggling spirit to them; there is an urge to get under the skin, but no longer in a hedonistic manner. The title track is a catchy, hard-driving bit of machina that bridges the next few songs. Heaven is a well-conceived dronefest ala Siouxie and the Banshees, yet it's moody, not atmospheric melancholy lacks the burning rebelliousness of Decay.

This Quiet Hour returns Clegg's crusade to differentiate himself from Robert Smith yet rings far too familiar with its romance-spoiled ugliness that would sound perfectly at home on Seventeen Seconds. The twinkling synths play a mean-spirited prank in their love stinks punchlines. Thoughtless, however, is Clegg's statement against the man, a game counterpoint that reflects the sentiments of many who appreciate underground music and its associated movements. The song features a quirky Erasure/When In Rome pop twing that acts as straight man to Horizon, a more risque sequel of sorts to Thoughtless. Horizon is glorious, aggressive, punchy, sonic, a musical bombast that is described as "just our anger at the dumbing down of pop." Indeed.

Horizon is the lead-in to the final stanza of Fall, which concludes with a smoking gun. The Secret Language of Relationships boasts a classic electronica groove, superb and steady-driving, where Nothing Inside realizes its full potential. Greyscale is sensual, reflective and wonderful in its voluptuous melody, celebrating not the loss of life as on Decay, but the joyous loss of true love. Instead of being thoroughly spiteful, Greyscale artfully portrays the charisma of love's potency and how painful it is when it vanishes. If Clegg is worrying about emulating Robert Smith, Greyscale is a worthy tribute that shouldn't be ridiculed with stigma; it should be openly appreciated. A pair of instrumentals round out Fall, Tom and Jerry and the sublimely crafted Trailblazer, which sort of makes one wonder where this blazen staunch was in the opening moments of Fall.

If Nothing Inside fails in any true fashion, it's the redundant manner in which Clegg's voice tends to dissipate far from luxuriant whispering to outright disappearance. At times on both albums, the music trails away from Clegg, which may be purposeful, yet nonetheless creates confusion as a result. Still, Nothing Inside can find a happy medium by combining the sense of urgency on Decay while relinquishing its overt shock value, as they demonstrated with the last section of songs on Fall. There are moments of brilliance to be savored on both albums, and Clegg and company can only get better, with further exploration of their art and their respective life changes that are obviously changing and honing their voices. As a new father, one can sense Clegg rapidly seeking a deeper meaning to his Shakespeare-inspired poetry. Here's hoping he continues to embrace life. Then he will be fully exorcised of his Robert Smithian demons.

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Buy "Decay"

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