The story of Klaxons’ Surfing the Void eclipsed the music 18 months ago, when Jamie Reynolds acknowledged that the band members had returned to the studio to record new songs after their label, Polydor, told them to rewrite their sophomore album because the now-deleted album was “too dark and experimental.” What kind of band does that? Retreat into the studio to try to pump out an album the stuffed suits they work for want? These guys don’t have artistic integrity by the boatload, basically.
So here it is, Surfing the Void, the album Universal wanted. And unsurprisingly, it sounds exactly like how a suit would expect a Klaxons album to sound. It’s more or less a corporate-rock distillation of nu-rave, three years too late. There are the blaring synths, the dance-heavy bass, the harmonies, the sci-fi lyrics. In fact, nearly every track here is a re-write of “Atlantis to Interzone” from the band’s Myths of the Near Future, right down to the copious references to outer space and beat writers. As an added bonus (not a bonus), the band’s former balls-out loopiness is lopped off by Ross “Godfather of Nu-Metal” Robinson, whose only production tic is to max out volume. And he does a bang-up job of that here. You very well might not listen to an album as loud this year.
Corporate suits and Robinson don’t completely ruin Klaxons, despite their attempt here. Every once in a while, Klaxons remind you why they seemed so exciting circa “Golden Skans.” Opener “Echoes,” for instance, is delirious in its interstellar choruses. “Venusia” has a body-rattling bass line that bears some of the dubstep influence Klaxons claimed, and “Flashover” might be the best musical answer to a War of the Worlds alien invasion.
But any sense that these are the same blokes who had the NME by the short and curlies in 2007 is dashed as soon as you get a look at that ridiculous cover. That these guys are forced to try to create a Weezer-like meme for their album cover is indicative of the myriad of problems with Surfing the Void. There’s no telling how this might have turned out originally, but all we’re left with is this. An album that, at best, serves to remind other bands what happens when their label gets involved in the creative process. The label will make them into a parody of themselves.
Three years ago, the Klaxons bounced onto the scene with Myths of the Near Future, a spastic dance-punk record that won them the 2007 Nationwide Mercury Prize and even got them on stage with Rihanna for a collaboration on “Umbrella.” After a reported dispute with label Polydor, who supposedly asked the band to go back to the studio to make a more accessible album, their sophomore effort, Surfing the Void, is finally coming out. Even though the NME claims that nu-rave is over, Klaxons haven’t gotten the memo: “Flashover” is a crushing, howling blast of electronic twinges and heavy drums, and “Echoes” has them locking into a nervous groove that’ll light up every London dance floor this year. The kids are still on ecstasy, after all. The cat on the cover is just as excited for this record as everyone else is.