- "Do you love your robot children?" Posed towards the opening of Catholic, a recently unearthed collaboration between legendary producer Patrick Cowley and vocalist Jorge Socarras, this question is all the more poignant today considering the album's fate as disowned offspring. A far cry from his trademark psychedelic disco, Catholic is Cowley's left-field love-child with Socarras that sounds like it was midwifed by Brian Eno rather than Giorgio Moroder. Apparently, Megatone, Cowley's label, wasn't too keen on his stylistic philandering, and after his tragic, untimely death in 1982, the album languished in the vaults for nearly thirty years.
That's right, an entire album's worth of Cowley productions nobody's ever heard before. And it's got nothing to do with the churning HI-NRG sound pioneered on his groundbreaking mix of "I Feel Love" and continued to develop through collaborations with Sylvester and his own solo albums like Megatron Man and Mind Warp. Instead Catholic displays a bewilderingly diverse assortment of post-punk, ambient and futuristic synth-rock tunes. Eno is a fairly accurate frame of reference here, like any of his '70s solo records, Catholic veers at a rapid clip from uptempo rave-ups to atmospheric interludes, all the while maintaining a refreshingly experimental attitude towards sound production and song composition. Freed from the constraints of the dance floor, Cowley's sonic palette swells to include all matter of Kraftwerkian synth burbles, glistening nocturnal chimes and claustrophobic percussion. Check out the first single, "Soon": with its raw industrial thump and mournful two-note chorus it could be a Throbbing Gristle outtake.
Socarras' preening, theatrical vocals, which recall Bryan Ferry and Russell Mael of Sparks, lend the tunes a dark, edgy flamboyance. His lyrics are witty and acerbic, as with the provocations in the aforementioned "Robot Children": "You say that you love flowers, you say that you love art. You say that you love fashion, you say that you love cars. But do you love your robot children?" This tune is where you also get a first taste of the album's dominant style, a whirling, icy electronic rock that plays like a post-punkier version of Roxy Music's muscular glam jams, and which fully blossoms on the dizzying lock grooves of "In and Out," "Eddie Go to My Head" and "I'll Come See You." Cowley and Socarras aren't afraid to tackle uptempo punk head on, with the Ramonesy "I Never Want to Fall in Love" and the tongue-in-cheek sci-fi of "Cars Collide." These are counterbalanced by a number of strikingly atmospheric, downtempo pieces like "Room" and "You Laugh in My Face" in which Socarras intones unnervingly over minimalist analog soundscapes. A backdrop of tense silence gives Cowley even more room to twiddle with sound—the gloriously phased-out synths on "You Laugh In My Face" are alone worth the price of admission.
While it's not hard to see why in the early '80s Megatone might have recoiled from the results of all this heady experimentation, in 2009 it makes perfect sense to ears raised on subsequent decades of inventive avant-pop. The combination of futuristic beats and edgy sci-fi lyrics no longer sounds off-putting after 30 years of Sparks, Devo and Gary Numan. One can only imagine the effect Catholic might have had if circumstances had been different back then—praise be to Stefan Goldmann and Macro for finding a home for this robot child, and letting us in on another piece of the Cowley puzzle, one that's as mysterious as it is enlightening.
01. Memory Fails Me
02. Robot Children
03. I Never Want To Fall In Love
04. I'll Come See You
05. I Remember
06. Cars Collide
07. Eddie Go To My Head
10. You Laugh At My Face
11. I Am Your Tricks
12. In And Out
13. Burn Brighter Flame