Next up was the As Is EP – four new songs, each with a different producer. This may have been a signal of uncertainty in terms of style, but when it worked, it REALLY worked. Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke mixed Family Man, a cynical statement on hypocrisy and double lives, and it stands out as one of the rockiest numbers in the catalogue, riffs, recognisable verse-chorus structure and even some Estuary-accented spoken word in the middle eight. Yet it’s also been a personal favourite, as if the band broke all their own rules whilst simultaneously following everyone else’s, and somehow got away with it. Of the remainder, Lovesick and Higher sound like out-takes from the last album, so second prize goes to the Alan Wilder-produced Come Alive, as a portent of things to come.
A portent, as this most technically-minded of Mode Men came on board to produce Ebbhead alongside Flood. It saw the further transition to bona-fide songwriting, and the most detailed production yet heard on a Nitzer Ebb Produkt. Comparisons could be made to both DM’s ‘Violator’ and NIN’s ‘Pretty Hate Machine’, obvious but with a hint of truth – the CD format was becoming dominant and hence complex mixes and achingly high-end production values were becoming the expected norm.
And the best and worst results of this were simultaneously exemplified in the track Lakeside Drive. The urgent beat and committed vocal should have resulted in a sure fire anthem. But there’s just too much going on in the mix, and it hurts the overall impact. It’s all been pieced together with great proficiency – I just get the feeling the job could have been done with a trick or two less. More balanced is Ascend, similar in feel to the previous album but with a big rock-styled chorus reinforcing the tune. Godhead tries the same trick but falls slightly short in terms of cohesive structure.
The true success story here is I Give To You. Utilising orchestration of all things, it’s the moment all the studio trickery builds up to give a real crescendo, as if the raw meat of first-generation EBM and the haute cuisine of 90s studio mastery put aside their differences for one song only in order to create a masterpiece. I say this as I listened to the rest of the album several times whilst writing this guide, never hearing anything making me want to turn it off, but neither did anything else leap out, as if it was more a study of electronic music production technique that a compulsive case of “must listen again”. There’s a remixed version of Family Man at the end, useful if you don’t have the EP – but I do, and I prefer that version.
Singles and Versions: “I Give To You” was rightfully the lead single, with a couple of interesting mixes – Elemental and Pestilence, that both further explore the song’s orchestrated elements. There’s also a few versions of a non-album track “Stray Cat Blues”, but I heard nothing special here.
“Godhead” was the next single, getting one remix plus a selection of live tracks spread out across the versions, with a medley of “Let Your Body Learn” and “Murderous” the only real innovation.”Ascend” was the third single, returning to the format of multiple remixes, with Vince Clarke brought in to apply his trademark synthetic ear candy to remix of a song originally produced by the man who replaced him in Depeche Mode. Can’t keep these two bands apart, can we? Again, the 2CD and 2LP versions arriving in 2021 will give more recent converts a chance to acquire some, but not all of these alternate versions.
An extensive world tour followed, their biggest so far. In the end, it took four years for the next album to appear, during which time Julian Beeston was replaced by Jason Payne on drums. We finally got Big Hit in 1995 and with it came the attitude ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. No more minimalism – the long-threatened embrace of rock drumming, guitars and various acts of NINpersonation is here.
That means EBM purists can skip to the next chapter now, but for those with more varied tastes, I can tell out the new approach actually worked – for about four songs. Cherry Blossom is a competent opener, whilst Hear Me Say effectively combines vocal effects and furious drum breaks. Kick It is the obvious hit the title suggested, built around a solid groove and processed guitars, whilst I Thought is the least-expected highlight on any Ebb album, delays guitar shards building to an epic climax which simply doesn’t belong on any album associated with an EBM legend.
And then the whole thing flies off the rails. The rest of the album is mish-mash of dirgey electronic rock, half-developed concepts and other examples of seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time. The four-song grace-period at the start of the album had long since expired by it’s close, and the bitter truth was clear – leave the rock-star antics to the Americans.
Singles and Versions: Just two singles this time – “Kick It” and “I Thought”. They might have picked the two strongest tracks for a rework, but the former seems to have no creativity left in it, every remix a pale shadow of the original, whilst the latter is a song that was best left as it was and hence didn’t really need a rework. There’s a few non-album songs, but nothing worth hunting down. 2CD and 2LP versions of the album are being issues in 2021 if you still give a toss about these unessential rarities regardless.
Nitzer Ebb split after touring one final time. McCarthy recorded a few vocals for Alan Wilder’s Recoil project before he went off to work in film, whilst Harris settled into the role of producer, with The Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson amongst his credits. Given the further rise of first guitar industrial in the late 90s and then the whole futurepop/aggrotech thing in the early 00s, it was unlikely any new Nitzer Ebb Produkts would have gained much attention, even if they had produced something worthwhile. As it was, they were one of several acts in the industrial hierarchy to disappear, if only for a time, as the 21st century dawned.