Fad Gadget, Frank Tovey By Fad Gadget

Philip Sherburne

By Philip Sherburne

on 06.21.11 in Reviews

Frank Tovey By Fad Gadget

Fad Gadget

The cover of Fad Gadget's mammoth two-disc retrospective depicts a man falling — boxed in by his name and alias — but the record's really a testament to an artist who never allowed himself to be hemmed in by anything, whether it's sooty synthesizer experiments or hard-scrabble protest music.

A testament to artist who’s never allowed himself to be hemmed in

Compiled in 2006, four years after Frank Tovey's death, Frank Tovey By Fad Gadget is more complicated than Fad Gadget's 2001 best-of collection. It samples his career seemingly at random, opening with a string of album tracks from his synth-pop days — Fad Gadget was the first artist signed to Daniel Miller's Mute label — before dipping into the Irish-inflected folk of the late '80s and early '90s. To the uninitiated, the shift might seem jarring: "Ideal World" is gothic glam rock on a par with Bauhaus, while the accordion-led traditional "Sam Hall" is reminiscent of the Pogues. On closer inspection, though, there's not that much distance between his spirited rendering of 19th-century murder ballads and the masochistic synth-funk of a song like 1984's "Jump," where Tovey could make a line like "The world is rough and jagged, and it tears you up" sound almost jaunty.

The collection is rounded out by an intriguing collection of rarities. "Easy Listening – Ex 2," a collaboration with noise musician Boyd Rice, encircles a plucked phrase reminiscent of Bizet's "Carmen" with barbed-wire clang; "A Place with the Pigs," a 1999 piece for theater, shows the influence of contemporary drum 'n' bass, while 1996's "Sleeper" seems inspired by Portishead's first album. Disc Two includes five songs voted as favorites by fans — "Back To Nature," "Ricky's Hand," "Lady Shave," "Collapsing New People" and "Love Parasite" — along with demo versions of the same. Collectively, they reinforce Tovey's position alongside Depeche Mode, Cabaret Voltaire and The Normal as one of synth-pop's most bracingly original voices.