Electro pioneer Foxx sounds more relevant in 2012 than he ever has.
Garry Mulholland 2012-03-16
Dennis Leigh is 63. His alter-ego John Foxx is, however, ageless. As alien-handsome as he was 35 years ago while inventing synth-pop with the first line-up of Ultravox(!), this Lancashire-born cult hero of electronica has, at various points, been a photographer, video director, graphic artist and designer of book jackets. But something always pulls Foxx back to his singular and hugely influential music, and his marking out of a territory involving analogue synths, discreet metallic rhythms, pop-meets-classical tunes, urban dystopia, and a feel of European existential angst and detached alienation from a world of humans he doesn’t understand – or perhaps understands only too well. Like many an 80s synth maestro and 70s post-punk, Foxx has stuck to his sonic guns, and seen the world inevitably come back around to his way of thinking. He has never seemed so relevant, nor sounded so modern, as he does in 2012.
Counting collaborations, compilations and live albums, The Shape of Things is Foxx’s 45th long-playing record… and this despite a 12-year hiatus from music between 1985 and 1997. The guy has a serious work ethic for a robot aesthete. Working with the youthful probably helps, and his latest band The Maths revolve around young producer, drummer and synth geek Ben ‘Benge’ Edwards, who gets equal pictorial billing on the CD’s inner sleeve, and surrounds Foxx’s elegant, gently angst-ridden croons with tinkling Kraftwerkian melodies and dark Korg and Moog undulations. Foxx’s metallic guitar shreds Falling Away, and a wistful doomed romanticism replaces his youthful obsessions with burning cars and underpasses. Small but telling shots of worldly wisdom abound: "They say talk is cheap/But I never found it so," Foxx gently insists on Talk and its Matthew Dear-assisted bonus revamp, Talk (Beneath Your Dreams). "The things that change our lives / Often walk in unrecognized," he muses on Unrecognised, amidst an album where fascinating possibilities continually disappear into doorways and down dark alleys, leaving the man in the stylish grey overcoat (a man this sad yet gorgeous could only be wearing a stylish grey overcoat) doomed to immaculate loneliness.
The Shape of Things is, by some margin, Foxx’s best album since Metamatic, the 1980 solo debut that has become one of modern electronica’s sacred touchstones. This is partly because, like fellow travellers Gary Numan and David Sylvian, Foxx never allowed himself to be dragged in the 80s nostalgia circuit for the want of anything better to do. But it’s also because, unlike everything else on Earth, synthesizers don’t age. These ancient gizmos sound as much like the future as they did in 1980, and so does the fantastic Mr Foxx.