The title of the keenly anticipated new CD from The Watchmen, Slomotion, is actually a slight misnomer. Yes, it has been over three years since the release of their previous hit album, Silent Radar, but the band has certainly not been slacking off. On the contrary.
In a display of creative courage that is all too rare in this era, The Watchmen have reinvented themselves. With the aid of new technological tools, they have radically reshaped the way they now write and record music, with invigorating results. That becomes crystal-clear on the unique package that is Slomotion. This is a twin-CD set comprising Fast Forward and Rewind.
Fast Forward features eight brand new tunes, plus a remixed version of hit single 'Stereo'. Rewind is a carefully chosen selection of nine of the band's hits and fan favourites (including 'Boneyard Tree', 'Any Day Now' and 'All Uncovered') culled from their four previous best-selling albums.
A multi-media component is featured on both CDs, offering fans photos especially culled from the personal collections of band members. There is also the opportunity for the listener to create their own mix of the album's title track, 'Slomotion'.
Slomotion is a compelling portrait of a band with both a fascinating history and now a brand new story to tell.
Over the past decade, The Watchmen ascended to the elite of Canadian rock via an unwavering work ethic and a series of records that established a highly appealing signature sound.
From 1992's debut, McLaren Furnace Room, through 1994's In The Trees, Brand New Day (1996) and 1998's Silent Radar, The Watchmen have built a large and devoted fan base here. Total Canadian album sales exceed 300,000 copies, they're recognized as one of the country's best live acts, and also have a strong following in Europe and Australia.
That was then, this is now. In blind aural tastings of the new material, industry insiders were unable to identify the songs as The Watchmen. The propulsive guitar-driven style of their previous records has given way to multi-textured and atmospheric soundscapes that make skilful use of computerized, programmed and found sounds. Given further listening, however, the band's essential strengths come to the fore once more.
The rich and passionate vocals of Danny Greaves, the melodic power and lyrical depth of the tunes - these Watchmen trademarks happily remain. The setting has changed not the substance.
Fast Forward's songs range from the dramatic widescreen sound of the mesmerizing first single, 'Absolutely Anytime', and the anthemic 'Slomotion' through the dynamic pulsing of 'Phone Call' and 'Together' to the intimate and haunting ballads 'I Like It', 'Soft Parade' and 'No Longer Mine'.
Danny's voice, placed front and centre in the mix, has never sounded stronger, while the playing of his comrades is both imaginative and completely assured.
Bassist Ken Tizzard acknowledges that "on first listening to the new material, people are genuinely shocked. They go, 'wow, this is so different,' but after more spins, then it's OK, this is The Watchmen."
To guitarist Joey Serlin, "this change was a gradual process for us, but the perspective of someone on the outside will be different." For Danny, "the 'wow' factor is a good thing. Then, once people listen, they realize it is not contrived. It is too comfortable, too good for that."
That's for sure. Any suggestions of jumping on some electronica bandwagon are way off base. Catching a gig by Prodigy at a European rock festival simply opened up Tizzard's ears to new creative possibilities, and his enthusiasm quickly infected his comrades.
The Watchmen have diligently studied and experimented with new technologies and integrated this experience in a natural, organic fashion. The result is one thoroughly revitalized band. The Watchmen had been looking for a new challenge.
"For us to have gone in and made Silent Radar Part 2 would have just been very boring for us," states Serlin.
"I was just not in the headspace to make another rock record," agrees Tizzard.
Instead, Ken, Danny and Joey set up home studios that incorporated modern creative software. The results were liberating, as Greaves explains. "For ten years, I wrote using just a piano and dictaphone. I'd have an idea in my head I knew was cool, but it'd take a year to get it recorded. Now, you can have an idea and capture it immediately, and in a way it'll never be captured again. I recorded vocals on four of these songs at home, brought them in on a CD, and we placed them into the sessions. That blows me away!"
The Watchmen were never seduced by technology away from the central musical mission.
"With these tunes, it is about the melody taking you from place to place," insists Danny. "That is our home base, that's what makes it sound like us. Whether the sounds come from programming or an acoustic guitar, that's just the means to an end."
The songs on Fast Forward came from a variety of sources. For instance, 'Absolutely Anytime' came from Joey, while Audio Playground High + Wide, Ken and Danny's electronica-based side project, spawned 'Phone Call' and 'Holiday (Slow It Down)'.
"The writing process has a lot to do with how different it sounds," observes Greaves. "We were all able to be dictators with our own stuff before we handed it in to the group."
Helping sonically shape the new songs were two of Canada's most innovative producers and remixers. Known for his work with Delerium and Fear Factory, Rhys Fulber contributed the dazzling remix of 'Stereo' as well as producing 'Absolutely Anytime', 'No Longer Mine' and 'Slomotion'. The rest were recorded with DJ Iain, a crucial figure on the Toronto electronica scene.
Fulber explains that "although at first I was confused about the prospect of working with the group, I was impressed by the way all of them had embraced technology and were very open and forward thinking about their music. The sessions we did together were very enjoyable and flowed nicely."
DJ Iain was equally impressed by The Watchmen's approach. "They came to me saying they wanted to create an album they had never been able to make before, one that elicited the spirit of artists they all loved, such as Massive Attack, Prodigy and Peter Gabriel. Together, we set about destroying the conventional methods of rock recording and instead used the modern day digital studio as if it was a new member of the band. It was a real treat working with such talented musicians who were always open to pushing the boundaries. I believe that we've created a new, vital and thoroughly modern album from The Watchmen."