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John Foxx: 20th Century: The Noise

Founding father of UK synth-pop.

The chilly musical future mapped out by Lancashire-born electro-pop philosopher John Foxx in the early 1980s was an alluringly dystopian Middle European sci-fi road movie which soon dated into self-parody, but now weirdly sounds more fresh and vivid than ever.

Edgy Ballardian psychodramas such as Burning Car and Underpass, from Foxx’s milestone Top 20 debut album Metamatic, still radiate the same prickly post-punk angst and exploratory analogue oddness as PiL, Japan or Tubeway Army in their raw prime.

On two further 1980s albums, Foxx became softer and lighter, edging towards conventional pop-star prettiness. Floydian psych-rock synth-tronic hybrids Miles Away and Endlessly sound more polished, but low on spark or romance.

Returning to music in the late 1990s after a long sabbatical, Foxx has proved more adventurous and experimental than ever over the past decade. The first of two retrospective compilations marking his 35 years as a solo artist, The Noise is quality gear but contains few surprises for hardcore fans.

Their interest will focus on the two closing tracks, both rare and excellent. The previously unreleased Musique Electron, a dreamy instrumental from the archives, sounds like Brian Eno playing Nintendo, while the hard-to-find Splendour is a gleaming ambi-classical audioscape of icy strings and ghostly voices. Mostly fine, occasionally sublime.

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