Last year I was laid out by the ballsy, intense output of Sneaker Pimps founder Chris Corner under the new handle IAMX... particularly his 2006 release The Alternative. If I could sum up the essence of Corner’s pitch black dance-rock in a single word, that word would probably be “urgent.” There’s a near-manic pitch to the lyrics and Corner’s fragile vocal delivery that makes your heart race, even during the more downbeat numbers. Fusing bits of post-punk ‘80s romanticism, lush glam-pop and ‘30s-era European decadence (it’s no coincidence that Corner’s currently based in Berlin) to create a kind of darkly futuristic cabaret – alternately promoted as “Glam Noir” or “Midnight Dance Music” – Corner’s material is flamboyant, chilling and possessed of a strangely uplifting energy.
The new IAMX studio album Kingdom of Welcome Addiction ups the ante with even more emotional intensity – and scales back some of the electro-pop components that drove the previous efforts in favor of a stripped-down, raw and organic approach, helped along by the same super-sexualized themes, biting social satire and an operatic sense of showmanship. To find out if the new formula works, keep reading below!
Ditching many of the familiar old-school synth patterns in favor of piano, and switching from harsh, overdriven electric guitars to mostly acoustics, Kingdom might be a stylistic departure from its predecessors if not for Corner’s signature melodic & rhythmic patterns, which always keep things intense and intimate. I'd say the end result feels more emotionally vulnerable than before, but don't mistake this for weakness: there's a wiry power in these tracks that cuts deeper than Corner's ever managed before. His lyrics – and the way he sings them – have always been a soul-bearing exercise, and they would come off just as raw with entirely computer-based instrumentation as they would if delivered on a barstool with a beat-up acoustic guitar; it’s a testament to his songwriting skills.
“I am a very private person,” Corner confesses, “but I felt, with a more organic approach, I could begin to explore and expose another angle… I am trying to show a warmer, more concerned side with this album.”
That’s not to say that the electric mayhem of his previous projects has been purged completely; one listen to the electrifying, trippy opener “The Nature of Inviting” – a surprisingly faithful glance back at Corner's Pimps output with sledgehammer beats beneath his lofty falsetto delivery – will put that idea to bed. Also the triumphant marching strains of the title track, and the bombastic '80s electro-stomp of “The Great Shipwreck of Life,” serve as powerful, rousing anthems, and I'd wager “An I For An I,” with its buzz-saw bass line, icy guitar jabs and equally piercing lyrics (“We owe it to the sex toys”), is one of Corner's most aggressive electro-rock tracks yet.
But it's heartbreaking cuts like “I Am Terrified” that expose the emotional turmoil and fragility at the heart of the album, even while exploding into a soul-searing, epic chorus. On the other side of this painful epiphany, the pensive closing ballad “Running” seems ultimately driven by almost innocent feelings of hope, hinting at a sense of redemption. Straddling those two moods is “Tear Garden,” which contrasts upbeat, bouncy drums with a stabbing piano line and seriously bleak lyrics (“I do evil things, and evil things return... pray for me”), and the biting poetry of guitar & piano number “The Stupid, the Proud” – an eloquent jab at the dangers of clueless arrogance.
Other highlights include a moody, haunted duet between Corner and Grammy nominee Imogen Heap (whose voice blends so seamlessly with Corner's, it's sometimes hard to tell who's who) on “My Secret Friend,” which plays out as a doomed love ballad which will likely get some serious indie-radio rotation, and the grandiose but cynical “Think of England,” which benefits from the strong, gutsy '70s glam-rock vibe that Corner slips into like a well-worn feather boa.
I was already pretty damn impressed at Corner's progression between 2004 debut Kiss + Swallow and its follow-up The Alternative, which had become one of my favorites of that year... until this release promptly blew its predecessors away just a few tracks in. Seriously, Kingdom is an emotional powerhouse of an album that belies Corner's thin, delicate demeanor and garish stage persona with a blast of intense electro-rock that dazzles, rocks and touches you all at once. Simply amazing.