1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear
#35: Killing Joke – Brighter Than A Thousand Suns (1986)
Killing Joke’s striking early albums really meant something but this mid-’80s album is a synthpop washout, writes MATT KELLY.
The signs of a more commercial direction were there on Fire Dances and Night Time, but those preserved something of the angry, underground ethos Killing Joke is rooted in. Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, by comparison, is Duran Duran fronted by Robert Smith.
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I don’t want to be the genre police and say Killing Joke are “not allowed” to make a synthpop album, but this is not the sound someone buying a Killing Joke record is looking for. And even if you did want synthpop, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns is comically passé compared to works like Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration released at the same time.
Just have a listen to ‘Victory’ where the band turn into Simple Minds in the least dignified way possible, complete with a dreadful faux-funk vibe. BTATS is six years younger than KJ’s debut but sounds infinitely more old-fashioned, and where KJ’s previous work was hard to pigeonhole, BTATS is a straight-up pop album. Not a great one either – every song feels twice as long as it is, and just try surviving the six-minute plus bore that is ‘Love Of The Masses’, which even Paul Raven’s great bass can’t save.
Jaz’s personality is nowhere to be found – he could be anyone with these vocals – and you’d be forgiven for wondering if Paul Ferguson is still in the band with the bland drum production on offer.
A couple of reasonably nice choruses on tracks like ‘Adorations’ and ‘A Southern Sky’ can’t compensate for the sad spectacle of one of the most exciting and different British bands of their generation giving in and following the pack with this banal set of mediocre mainstream pop.
Though they would eventually claw me back, Killing Joke lost me with this record.