Where, in this age of exponentially expanding technology, does multicultural assimilation stop and communal identity begin? Tackhead, a high-voltage union of American funk and British industrial musicians, explores this dilemma, and others, on Strange Things.Ignoring rather than breaking through the boundaries of categorized music, Tackhead combines speed metal, groove-drenched dub, wah-wah guitar, acidic rap, dreamy new age and punched-up industrial to such dazzling effect that Strange Things is almost incomprehensibly complex. Finally, though, Tackhead comes across as an intelligent dance band with a formidable rhythm section.
The group's unofficial leader is Adrian Sherwood, one of alternative music's top-notch producers. Sherwood is known for his collage-of-sound style, having worked with African Head Charge, Depeche Mode and Ministry. Guitarists Skip McDonald and Doug Wimbish and drummer Keith LeBlanc were at the forefront of the movement that has defined and nurtured rap. Starting in the mid-'70s, the trio provided music and vocals on records for the Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel.
Rounding out the quintet is powerhouse vocalist Bernard Fowler. Fowler has backed up everyone from Mick Jagger to Motorhead, but his solo work closely parallels Sherwood's. Fowler has created some radical trance-dance tracks whose mid-tempo pulsations and soul-infected vocals laid the foundation for the British acid house movement.
Strange Things approaches a flawless merger of Tackhead's five personalities. Mirroring the social concerns of fellow slaves to industry Consolidated and Skinny Puppy, Tackhead tackles AIDS, class disparities, racial violence and drugs in a number of songs, notably Dangerous Sex, a realistic examination of temptation and self-discipline, See the Fire Burning and Change!
But Tackhead is savvy enough to temper its cerebral demeanor and lofty intentions with more intimate lyrical observations. The title track is a searing cry of loneliness, made by an anonymous narrator watching a newly bonded couple holding hands. Take A Stroll is both ambiguous and stark; vaguely sketched sentences outline something that could be as innocent as a walk in the moonlight or as harrowing as a suicide.
Tackhead combines the human and synthetic elements of modern music for a sharp, dark aural experience that is at once pleasant and troubling. That lifelike accent gives the human aspect of Tackhead the upper hand. Like a mysterious but lovable friend, Strange Things is well worth the effort to decipher.