I have an itch. And it is an itch that can only be scratched by post-punk, queer-core, synth inflected disco music. Like, for instance, All or Nothing, the new LP by DIY supergroup, Shopping. Their fourth album, following 2019’s Edwin Collins produced The Official Body, finds a band operating from either side of the Atlantic, writing in London and recording in LA and venturing further into some very danceable territory. Comprised of Billy Easter (Wet Dog) on bass, Andrew Milk (Current Affairs) on drums and the riff-monster that is Rachel Aggs (Sacred Paws / Trash Kit) on guitar, the three of them bounce vocal lines off each other in a musical landscape increasingly uncluttered by detail and animated by clonking, full-blooded electronica. I hope Shopping won’t come to Cardiff and let down the tyres on my bike for what I’m about to say, but I’m gonna stick my neck out – if anything, this new album really reminds me of the Pet Shop Boys*.
Take the recent single ‘For Your Pleasure’. As with ‘Paninaro’-era PSBs, it’s not just a pretty tune. There’s the zen-like promise of fulfilment in the emotional hollowness of consumerism, delivered in an even, neutral register. It’s a bit scruffier than Neil Tennant, to be sure. And he’d certainly frown at the number of guitars that are still involved. But the lyrics and pop sensibility strays into the same kind of did-I-overhear-this-somewhere-before-actually doggerel of the office or the shopping arcade and throughout the track, as throughout the album, there’s more than a hint that really all of this, and all of everything else, is only ever about sex and that they’re daring you to say so.
Delving further into great synth bands of the eighties, ’Follow Me’ takes as it’s starting point the watching-me-watching-you voyeurism of social media and goes for a run around Depeche Mode’s Some Great Reward. Shopping are vastly more nuanced. When you get behind the wheel with Depeche Mode there’s a more than reasonable certainty that he’s not just talking about going for a drive. Shopping might be hinting at something a bit smutty, or perhaps they’re only talking about Cambridge Analytica.
Again and again, songs like ’Expert Advice’ and ‘Initiative’ take the banal, unmusical cliches of late-stage capitalist chit-chat and fashion them into something more interesting. Alert to the managerial tone we’re enjoined to employ when dealing with our emotions, the three vocalists become a roving gestalt, something restless, never quite finding the gratification it seeks. There’s something introspective about it too – never quite political, but also always political, because that stuff gets everywhere, even into the deepest recesses of your head.
And talking of gestalts, Shopping are one slick operation. Easter’s bass never seems to hesitate from the moment it starts jogging along with Milk’s opening drum beat on ‘Trust‘, and everything from that first, electioneering pitch onwards is built around the relentless symmetry between the two. Rachel Aggs is one of the most interesting guitarists out there, an irresistible double threat of post-punk and afro-pop, and on All or Nothing she’s given the job of sketching in the fiddly detailed bits – a day-glo squiggle here (‘No Apologies‘), a splash of Numanoid gloss there (‘Lies‘), and now and then something that sounds achingly human, like the fluttering arpeggios that suddenly burst through the middle of ‘About You‘ and pull the song into it’s dramatic vocal crescendo.
Musically the album is as sleek and purposeful as a set of Bang & Olufsen speakers. It’s got a clubby eighties feel, all crimped phones, leopard-print hair, and vaporously swirling shoulder-pads, and is imbued with a spirit of dance-floor rebellion. So much so, that I’m actually a week late with this review because it’s taken this long to stop dancing about wildly whenever I put it on, to sit down and come up with something a bit better than, bloody hell, this is good. It’s a pumping soundtrack to the Danse Macabre of the twenty-twenties.
* New information has come to light. Shopping have informed me via Twitter and in no uncertain terms that they are literally named after a Pet Shop Boys song. My bicycle is safe, but my reputation as a critic is in tatters. I wish to submit my humble apologies to all concerned. Had I only shown a bit of initiative (cue music)…