CABARET VOLTAIRE Red Mecca (Rough Trade)

On their third album, originally released in 1981, the Sheffield grinders manage to approximate the sound of Can on very bad drugs indeed whilst also keeping a few crucial minutes ahead of what was happening on “Top Of The Pops”. Much of “Red Mecca” is an almost random assemblage of synth stabs, hectoring voices and pneumatic clatter – you have to stand back to hear the whole picture. And yet their two covers of Henry Mancini’s theme music from the Orson Welles film “A Touch Of Evil” neatly anticipate The Human League’s version of “Get Carter” (about as taxing as shooting fish in a barrel compared to the mangling deconstruction going on here), and it’s striking to hear how the experimentation on display here trickled down into the work of sometime label mates like Soft Cell.

Much of “Red Mecca” is a churning electric soup of greyscale psychedelia thrashed out of hotwired junk store synthesisers and tape decks, jabbing, claustrophobic, queasy listening. Yet on occasion a measure of clarity rises from the murk. The anti-funk of “Black Mask”, for example, sounds like a negative image of Brian Eno & David Byrne’s early sampling experiment “My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts”, and “Spread The Virus” is an urgent, insistent blanket of panic and confusion. The album peaks, though, with the ten minute marvel “A Thousand Ways”, a slippery mantra that finds the Voltaire at their least oppressive.

Perhaps not as scary, and rather more melodic, than their preceding reputation might suggest, “Red Mecca” is still a crushing, alienating listen, qualities that ensure it remains compelling decades after the fact.