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The Otherly Opus

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2007 1 Mar
The Otherly Opus
Sounds like … strangely worded synth-pop that hearkens back to Depeche Mode, New Order, Echoing Green, Joy Division, and Howard Jones.At a glance … The Otherly Opus is probably the most accessible album in Joy Electric's Legacy series, but that's not saying much with the occasionally dated synth-pop sound and the largely incomprehensible lyrics.Track Listing The Otherly Opus
Frivolity and Its Necessities
Colours in Dutch
The Ushering In of The Magical Era
Write Your Last Paragraph
The Memory of Alpha
Red Will Dye These Snows of Silver
(The Timbre of) The Timber Colony
Ponderance Need Not Know
A Glass to Count All the Hours

Those familiar with Joy Electric tend to fall into two camps: those who admire the relatively unique electronica and those who consider it all self-indulgent nonsense. Emboldened by the first group and undeterred by the second, Ronnie Martin continues his analog-synthesizer-driven vision thirteen years past his debut. The Otherly Opus (how Lemony Snicket sounding) is the fifth and final installment in his Legacy series of concept albums that began with The White Songbook in 2001.

What's it all about? How do the Legacy albums interrelate? I'm stumped. Perhaps they're intentionally peculiar and indecipherable, thus distinguishing the series from Joy Electric's earlier poppy work resembling Yaz and Erasure.

Fortunately, Martin explains many of the songs in a journal entry on Joy Electric's site, though you still wish the songs were clear enough to speak for themselves. The first half is described as more personal, relying heavily on magical fantasy imagery. A moody reflective piece like "Write Your Last Paragraph" works despite its brevity. The others are more frustrating, fusing catchy choruses with inaccessible lyrics left wide open for interpretation. The second half is slightly better, reportedly about the fall of Adam and Eve and the antediluvian period (i.e. pre-Flood) that followed—"The Memory of Alpha" is particularly more meaningful, touching on the shame of the first sin.

But at least it does seem that Martin has broadened his self-imposed electronic horizons this time, sounding closer to fresh than dated. It could be that Joy Electric sounds more palatable now that '80s synth-pop has become vogue again (Shiny Toy Guns, Scissor Sisters), though it's also apparent that Martin has done more with his vocal arrangements than ever before. This is the closest he's come in years to making songs more memorable and catchy, sometimes inspiring the desire to sing along.

Still, it seems like Martin would be better off crafting electronic pop more current, polished, and enjoyable. He's poetic, creative, he understands melodies, and his collaboration with brother Jason Martin (Starflyer 59) on The Brothers Martin proves he's capable of more. Judging by these Legacy albums, it could be that he's simply trying too hard as Joy Electric. Simplify!

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