In the five years since Creep Show’s acclaimed Mr Dynamite album was released it’s fair to say that we’ve all been through a fair bit. Sitting here, in 2023, things don’t seem to be getting any better. There’s the cost of living crisis and political meltdowns; we're in deep water with global warming and to top it all there’s a war on our doorstep.
Back in 2018 everything seemed less complicated. Sure, there was stuff to get riled about, but we knew nothing about what was to come. Mr Dynamite was a fairground ride into the dark corners of a world that was on the brink of being blitzed in a blender. It was a record teetering on the edge. Five years down the line you’d expect the follow-up, Yawning Abyss, would double-down and bring the white-knuckled, teeth-gritted fury of the last five years to the boil. And yet….
A quick recap? No problem. Wrangler + John Grant = Creep Show. And Creep Show? “A band of musical misfits who have found a voice or two”, says Wrangler’s Ben “Benge” Edwards, whose Bond villain studio on the edge of a moorland is Creep Show Grand Central as well as home to an analogue synth arsenal that could sink ships.
Wrangler have known each other for a while. Tunng’s electronics wizard Phil Winter and Cabaret Voltaire’s trailblazing, pioneering frontman Stephen Mallinder go way back, while Phil and Benge crossed paths in the 21st century when they seemed to be increasingly in the same venues at the same times. Meanwhile, Mal had been living in Australia since the mid-90s and when, in 2007, he returned to the UK his old pal Phil suggested he meet Benge and the three of them immediately began working together.
Wrangler collectively bumped into Grant at their soundcheck for Sheffield’s Sensoria Festival in 2014 where they were playing with Carter Tutti. A friendship blossomed and when they were invited to perform together for Rough Trade’s 40th anniversary show at London’s Barbican in 2016, well, they jumped at the chance... and Creep Show was born.
Let’s talk about the new album... What is the ‘Yawning Abyss’? You might well ask. According to Mal, it’s “a cosmic event horizon that I can see from my attic window when stand on a chair”. Yeah. Thanks.
“On this album”, offers Benge, feet firmly on the floor, “Wrangler wrangled some vintage synths, mostly Roland, Moog, and the ‘Crystal Machine’ - then John Grant joined in the fun at Memetune Studios where lots of musical experiments were carried out. Then Mal and John ran off to Iceland with the master tapes and recorded a load of madcap vocals. Back at Memetune, me and Phil were left to try and make sense of it all. Which wasn’t hard because what they did in Iceland was totally magnificent.”
Which kind of brings us back to where we began. You’d imagine ‘Yawning Abyss’ would be blowing steam out of its furious ears. Mr Dynamite but kicking a wasps nest. Repeatedly. And yet…
Opener ‘The Bellows’ comes on like a modular ‘Radio Ga Ga’, the singalong ‘Moneyback’ (“You want your money back? / I didn’t think so”) sounds like Godley & Creme’s ‘Snack Attack’ meets Prince Charles And The City Beat Band (“Pennies, pounds, dollar bills, signed agreements, death wills”). ‘Yahtzee!’ is an unhinged electro breakdance party in four minutes and nine seconds.
Where Mr Dynamite was menace, a mélange of mangled voices, with Grant and Mallinder being heavily treated, pitched up or down, rendering their contributions largely indistinguishable, Yawning Abyss takes a more direct approach. You hesitate to say feelgood, but there’s a skip in the step here for sure.
The title track plays John Grant’s vocal straight. Completely. It’s good, so very good. Like ‘Axel F’ covered by Vangelis. The delicious shimmering synths of ‘Bungalow’ also plays those Grant pipes with a straight bat. ‘Matinee’ delves into darker, very funky territory. With Mal upfront it comes on like ‘The Crackdown’. Choice lyric: “You are starting to breakdown / And it’s so fun for me to see / You should have thought of that / You should have come prepared / You can see what’s happening and you look a little scared”.
So, you know, not all feel good. But it does feel good. It’s probably best to draw your own conclusions... This is Creep Show after all.