Best 3 Songs Per Album: Nitzer Ebb

Posted: November 21, 2013 in Best 3 Songs Per Album
Tags: , , , , ,

Nitzer Ebb is an unusual band for me, because I hated them when I first heard them but later learned the error of my ways and now have tremendous respect and rank them among the greats of the genre.

That Total Age

ThatTotalAge

I know some of you are thinking, “Basic Pain Procedure came before this!”, but I’m not familiar enough with its tracklist to really speak with any authority.  I know early Ebb was all about that raw sound, but to me BPP is a bit too raw and it’s never been something I wanted to listen to very often.  However, I will say that the song “Crane” is fantastic and would make my overall list of best Ebb songs.  But let’s move on to That Total Age.

TTA is actually the third Ebb album I got my hands on, after hearing Belief and Showtime.  Each of those three albums are drastically different, and the sound of TTA was a bit of a surprise at first.  For a while I listened to it heavily, but these days I seem to have less tolerance for extreme repetition at extended lengths, so this doesn’t get much play anymore.  Reviewing the songs to choose the top three, I found this a lot more difficult than expected because a lot of songs are actually really good and I think maybe I need to put this album back into rotation.  But here’s my attempt at choosing the best three:

  • Join in the Chant — I can’t imagine any Ebb list which wouldn’t include this song.  Such a classic, such a great bass groove to set your mind to, and fun to chant along with.  The extremely simplistic and repetitive lyrics would bewilder the unitiated who are used to more traditional structures, but it works perfectly once you’re able to make the mental adjustment.
  • Let Beauty Loose — I’m not sure that this is a standout track for a lot of fans, but this song seems to have an extra bit of aggression which I just eat up.  The vocals seem amped up on this song compared to most of the album, more of a yell than the singing on the rest of the album.  Plus, another great bassline and an extremely fast tempo to keep the energy level up.
  • Fitness to Purpose — This third slot was very difficult to settle on, and it was almost a three-way tie with Murderous and Smear Body.  But something about this song makes it extremely fun to sing along with, and surprisingly the bassline works even though it only consists of two notes.  Plus, the secondary laser-like percussion adds an extra layer of interest to the beat which otherwise is the same as on many other songs on this album.

Honorable Mention: Heck, pretty much every song on the album except for….

Worst Song: Alarm — it just doesn’t have much going on in the synth department.  Even so, it’s still not bad.

Belief

belief

This album is the first thing I ever heard from Nitzer Ebb, on a borrowed cassette back in 1989 or 1990, and I remember being frustrated because the songs sounded so similar that it was hard to tell where one ended and the next one began.  That seems silly now, but at the time when I was brand new to industrial music and it was so strange and unusual compared to my more mainstream experience, it drove me crazy.  A CD with track markers would have helped me greatly.  Now, though, I think this album is one of the highlights of their catalog and it seems bizarre that I had such a negative initial reaction.  My favorite three tracks:

  • Hearts and Minds — The opening track was about the only song that stood out when I first heard the album, and it has remained strong throughout the last two decades.  On an album of very minimalist music, this offers a bit more variety of sound than most of the other tracks.  Plus, it’s fun to sing along with.
  • Captivate — This one flew under my radar for a while, but eventually I noticed it and it has been a standout ever since; probably my single favorite track on the whole album.  The bassline is fantastic, but what really sells it is the ability to sing along.  I’m not the type that sings along with industrial music often, usually because I can’t understand the lyrics anyway, but there are a handful of Ebb tracks that I can completely lose myself in and sing out loud and proud.  As long as I’m driving in my car, alone, so nobody can hear how bad I am.
  • Without Belief — Somehow I completely ignored this song until I heard its bassline sampled in Front Line Assembly’s song “Final Impact,” and ever since then I’ve been madly in love with that riff.  I also love the brief injections of female vocals interlaced with the main vocals, like when she says “Not. Even. Forward.”

Honorable Mention: Control I’m Here, Shame, For Fun

Worst Song: A tie between Drive and T.W.A., both completely uninteresting to me.  Runner up would be Blood Money, it’s not bad but for some reason doesn’t really grab me.

Showtime

showtime

This was the second Ebb album I heard, shortly after hearing Belief, and I thought Showtime was just horrid.  Back in these early days of my industrial youth, I thought Doug McCarthy’s vocals were awful and they seemed much worse here than on the previous release.  Now, though, I find him to be one of my favorite industrial vocalists and I will seek out songs from other bands where he provides guest vocals.  Also, this album does a lot of crazy experimentation with the sounds used, and it took me a while to warm up to that.  I still find it somewhat unique and unusual, and it works better when I’m in a certain frame of mind.  I just discovered that this album is missing from the band’s offerings on iTunes.  Weird.  My favorite three:

  • Lightning Man — Dat bassline!  It’s simple and direct, but I never tire of that beefy sound they used.  I also like the sort of talky nature of the vocals in this one, where he’s telling a story.  It’s a style they would repeat on their least popular album, and I love it even more there, but we’ll get there in a bit.  Even the clarinets work in this song, although I’m sure they contributed to my initial disgust with this album.
  • Getting Closer — The noise-driven intro to this song lets you know you’re in for something special, and this is far and away the most aggressive song on the album.  It’s another one I find fun to sing along with.
  • One Mans Burden — This third slot was hard to fill, not because there are so many other great tracks in contention but rather because the two aforementioned tracks just really stand out from the pack for me.  I’m not sure I’ll agree with myself later on this third choice, but I went with it because the extremely slow, simple bassline is fairly unusual for the scene.  A lot of people may have chosen Fun to be Had as a favorite, and although I think it has some interesting things going on, it’s always been a bit too bubbly for my tastes…sort of like a machine-driven children’s nursery rhyme or something.

Honorable Mention: All Over, Hold On

Worst Track: My Heart.  It just never gets going.

Ebbhead

ebbhead

As I’ve mentioned, I wasn’t all that crazy about Nitzer Ebb when I first discovered them.  This is the album that turned me around and caused me to reevaluate their catalog and really see the greatness therein.  As much as I liked this album when it came out, it ironically has not aged well for me and now there’s really only one track I’m ever interested in hearing.  My favorite three:

  • I Give To You — Not only is this my favorite song on the album, it is perhaps my favorite Ebb song of all time.  It is just expertly crafted without an ounce of fat to be trimmed.  Plus, there is nothing like driving down the road belting out the chorus alongside McCarthy.  Just an incredible song.
  • Family Man — It gets more difficult now, because everything on the album pales in comparison to the track I just mentioned.  But Family Man is a solid track, something I tend to forget because perhaps I’ve listened to it enough to have worn it out a bit.
  • DJVD — I think the bassline and beat work well together in this one, and it’s fun to chant the song title along with McCarthy.

Honorable Mention: Reasons, Lakeside Drive, Godhead

Worst Song: My first instinct was to say Ascend because I noticed it’s the only track I didn’t rip onto my phone, but after revisiting it I don’t really understand why I would’ve passed on this one but kept some of the others.  I’m going to list Time as the worst track, although really I don’t hate any song on this album.  I just find a lot of them have lost whatever interest they once held for me.

Big Hit

bighit

This album is somewhat infamous among fans because it wasn’t well received and brought an end to the band for over a decade.  Although I had recently come to appreciate the band more since the release of Ebbhead, I avoided this album for years because of the extreme negative reaction.  When I finally got my hands on it just for a sense of completion, I found that while some tracks were as bad as everyone said, there were surprisingly a few gems that most people seem to have ignored.  I only found three tracks on this album worth ripping to my phone’s library, and they are:

  • Hear Me Say — This song is actually really good, I’d say it’s easily stronger than a lot of the stuff on Ebbhead. It seems very out-of-place on this album, because it’s not quirky or just plain bad like a lot of the other tracks.
  • Border Talk — I love the sorta mellowed out verses in this song with the talking-in-narrative vocals.  It has sort of a dark jazz vibe to it.  The chorus is…well, it takes some getting used to and I still don’t love it.  But the verses are fun enough to make me overlook the ugly chorus.
  • Kick It — I’m not really in love with this song, but in comparison to the remainder of the album, it’s pretty good.  I usually skip it if it comes up in shuffle mode, though.

Honorable Mention: Cherry Blossom.  I don’t actually like this song much at all, but I think others would list it as one of the few salvageable tracks so I went with it.

Worst Song: My first instinct was to nominate every song on the album I didn’t mention above, but I had to review all of the songs because it’s literally been years since I heard any of them.  As bad as some of them are, there is a standout winner for worst song:  Boy.  I don’t know who is singing in this song, it sure doesn’t sound like McCarthy, but the vocals are laughably bad.  Ugh.

Industrial Complex

industrialcomplex

Wow!  This album came out of nowhere and really bowled me over.  I can confidently say that this my favorite overall album they’ve ever released.  I sorta denied that for a while because the classic releases are, well, classics.  But this album is just consistently strong with great music and great vocal performances.  It frustrates me to no end that Ebb has not yet produced a followup to this album, which was released in 2009 (4 years ago, as of this writing).  My top three:

  • Promises — The opening track just hits you over the head with that incredible bassline which never gets old throughout the length of the song, and it’s another one that’s fun to sing along with.
  • I Don’t Know You — This one deserves a mention just because of that bassline.  So amazing, especially how it shifts to a different sound as it reaches its final notes.  Honestly I don’t know the lyrics of this song very well because my attention is always focused solely on hearing that great bass riff play over and over.
  • I’m Undone — There are very few songs in the industrial genre that could be described as ballads, but I think this one might qualify.  Controlled and heartfelt, with a passionate chorus, and the whole thing builds in power near the end.  I think the Alan Wilder remix has gotten some attention, but honestly I much prefer the original.  I hate the beat that Wilder replaced the original with, it sounds much more cookie-cutter and familiar and loses some of the unique feel of the song.

Honorable Mention: Every song on this album is so great, they all get a mention except for…

Worst Song: Payroll.  I can’t bring myself to sit through this song, it is loud and ugly in all the wrong ways and the lyrics seem bombastic in a juvenile way that is below what this band is capable of.  The one black mark on an otherwise fantastic release.

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