VNV's latest starts similar to the previous - an intro track "On-Air" to set the mood - much more ambiguous and laden with mystique than the previous album's classical surges heard on the intro "Pro Victoria".
If "Of Faith, Power and Glory" was a story of rising above life's struggles, but at a high cost - "Automatic" is the celebration of the hard-won victory and pausing for a second to enjoy the rewards that victory brings. The cheery synth fills that open "Space & Time" are some of the most upbeat sounds that have ever shown up on a VNV Nation album. A few tracks later, they sound somewhat paint-by-numbers on the snarling assault of "Control" - a kind of song that was done far better 2 albums ago with "Nemesis".
Fortunately this is the only slip. The segue track "Goodbye 20th Century" leads into yet another surprisingly-upbeat (for this band anyways) track in "Streamline". "Avenues of light to guide us home," indeed - the final half of the album floats by on wave after wave of happiness. "Gratitude" is especially poignant given the band's history - the lyrics sound like a would-be thank you to fans.
VNV nation has been releasing albums since the mid-1990's, and are well known in EBM circles, but have always been an act simmering under the surface of popular culture. For this reason, a dedicated fanbase that sticks with them no matter what is all the more important to keep on going. Whether they wrote this track with that thought in mind is uncertain - but certainly not a far-fetched idea.
On this and the last 3 albums or so, Jackson and Harris have allowed the thudding beats to calm down some and delved into balladry more than in the past. "Nova (Shine a light on me)" is another fine example of this. Simple sounds for each verse, buoyed by a layered backdrop for each chorus, making a song that is quite epic indeed.
"Photon" comes along as a pleasant-sounding, yet jarring upsurge - after the warm-glow feeling of the last few songs, this one has a nervous urgency that seems out of step with the mood of the album so far. It's almost as if to say "Yes, we're still here, and we're still a little nervous about the world"
In trawling the net for info writing this, I have found much has been made of Jackson/Harris' lyrics being "Cheesy" or "Future-pop gaga". Even more venom is sprayed on them for having "made the same album 8 times and no one has caught on yet". I wonder if the people writing these words listened to the same album. "Automatic" can at times seem full of itself - as can all of VNV's work - but at a certain level, that's why it's called art.
This is their idea of a reflection on a world in turmoil. Yes, they always use that backdrop, but the ever-changing nature of the world itself will always give them a fresh palette to work with. Simply opening the news and reading the latest stories from around the globe proves that. Until the world suddenly turns into a utopia, Jackson & Harris will always have material to work with to frame their visions. "Automatic" keeps their tradition rolling, and effectively too.