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Legacy, Volume 1: The White Songbook

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2001 1 Jan
Legacy, Volume 1: The White Songbook
Sounds like … 1980s-styled synthesizer-driven pop, similar to the Pet Shop Boys, New Order, and House of WiresAt a Glance … Joy Electric offers perhaps their most bizarre album yet, filled with repetitive electronic sounds and continuous drum loops.

Although the title of Joy Electric's latest release may appear to be a greatest hits collection, it's merely their next batch of monophonic analogue synthesizer based dance tunes set to the vocals of group founder Ronnie Martin. Instead, the meaning behind the disc's title Legacy Volume 1 is to "do a series of albums that will represent the best of what I have to offer musically, so hopefully people can look back and view it as my finest work," according to Martin. "The underlying theme of the series is about leaving something meaningful behind in life, that will hopefully have an affect on people around you, however great or small."

There's no doubt that Joy Electric has been able to connect with fans of their niche genre since they began in the mid-1990s. In fact groups like Joy Electric, and their peers in the Christian industry like House of Wires, Norway, and Goodnight Star are providing fans of electronic music a hearty alternative to groups like Erasure, The Pet Shop Boys, and New Order. Joy Electric is best known for their exuberant hits "Drum Machine Joy," "Monosynth," and "Sugar Rush."

But the 14 songs on the new album lack the same appeal and accessibility that the aforementioned tracks contain. Instead, most tunes rely on the same monophonic analogue synthesizer generated noises repeated constantly, which not only get annoying after awhile, but also tend to drown out Martin's vocals at times. The project is divided into four sections, or "chapters" as the liner notes point out, keeping with book theme. The first chapter begins with the mostly instrumental title cut that features space like keyboard sounds suitable for a Star Trek movie soundtrack, while the synthesized sounds seem to muffle Martin's spoken word dialogue.

"Shepherds of the Northern Pasture" follows set to the beat of what sounds like a pinball machine while Martin's vocals on the track bear uncanny resemblance to Depeche Mode's David Gahan. The introduction to "And Without Help We Perish" sounds like it could accompany an Atari or Nintendo game from the mid-1980s, while "Unicornucopia" seems like a carbon copy to me, also having a shot at backing a video game, although Martin sings in a much lower key.

Chapter 2 starts out with what I feel is an unnecessary instrumental interlude "Hunter Green and Other Historians." I can picture that sound effect segment playing in a documentary about astronomy. "A New Pirate Traditional" makes for a particularly painful listen, blending similar joystick sound effects as the earlier tracks, while picking up the pace ten fold. Chapters 3 and 4 don't get any better, and for those that make it that far, they'll notice those groupings also sound like the first half of the disc. The project's closer "The Songbook Tells All" is the most tolerable, although the sound effects also mirror those of a virtual reality game or perhaps an alarm clock.

Perhaps I just don't understand this project from Joy Electric, although I've had no problems relating their sound and style on past efforts. It just seems projects like Christian Songs and Five Stars For Failure had not only a more accessible, less repetitive sound, but easier to understand lyrics with a more overtly spiritual message. Of course, die-hard fans of Joy Electric may disagree with me and consider this their most adventurous and creative album to date. While I can appreciate Ronnie Martin attempting to stretch his artistic horizons beyond Joy Electric's past efforts, I still believe that the previous projects are more enjoyable and are a better place to start for new fans looking to discover Joy Electric's musical legacy.