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LABEL: Island/Universal/Polydor RELEASE DATE: June 21, 2004 GENRE: Synthpop, Downtempo, Ambient
// review by SoyBomb

Probably not the tripomatic you expect.

In 1993, the German electronic music duo Jam & Spoon released both Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 and Tripomatic Fairytales 2002. The former achieved legendary status in the trance world featuring such classics as "Stella" and "Right In The Night"; the latter was far more experimental and downright weird. It took an entire decade, but a follow-up album finally arrived in the form of Tripomatic Fairytales 3003. And it is... well, something else. We start with Moment Gone featuring vocalist Plavka, the original singer on Jam & Spoon's early hits. In contrast to anything they had released prior, this one's an ambient blend of acoustic and mild electric guitars over angelic padding, subtly featuring the hook from Stella in the background. Eventually Plavka comes in and delivers a very warm performance as well. Fans of the original pair of albums will probably be shocked at what they just bought, for this is NOT a dance album, as they probably expected. Instead, this one is far more poppy, unusual for Jam & Spoon who had become staples in the electronic music genre. Cynical Heart further solidifies the poppiness album. Using a combination of a slightly cornball country-style set of lyrics by Jim Kerr (lead singer for Simple Minds), this one features both electric guitar and really strong string synths to set the mood. The vocals and the instrumentals don't entirely match up, but it's still listenable. Set Me Free (Empty Rooms) starts with solemn piano work before ending up as a full-fledged synthpop excursion. Featuring the vocals of Irish singer Rea Garvey, this one's definitely standard pop, similar to something you might get from a Depeche Mode album, and very unlike Jam & Spoon. I wouldn't say this track stands out, but it's certainly enjoyable the first couple of listens. I guess times really do change. Mirror Lover, featuring the vocals of Dolores O'Riodran, former lead singer of The Cranberries, is a strange blend of sounds, ranging from Western to ambient, with very strange and raw beats covering the plain. Very aurally diverse and pleasing with grungy bass and electric guitar, this one's a very surprising output from the duo. The coarseness of this track does make it a standout among the other, softer tunes thus far. Bianche Le Mie Mani, translating roughly as "My Own White Hands", is less a showcase for Jam & Spoon and more of a mild vocal battle between British rapper Tricky and the calmer sounds of Costanza Francavilla. The only thing I can really note about this fairly dry track is just how deeply Tricky's bass-heavy vocals burrow into your ears as his spoken words pass through them. But then heavenly Spanish guitars flow in with None Of This. Using the voice of German soul singer Xavier Naidoo, this one's a more straightforward ballad, practically copied right out of the "How To Write A Ballad" manual. Even though it's fairly relaxing and innocuous, I didn't find anything particularly notable in this one, either. Then there's Vata featuring Shweta Shetty (yes, that's a real name, not a rapper pseudonym). This one's somewhat chill with a strong Indian influence with sitars coming in and out whenever they feel like it. Or, at least, I THOUGHT it would be ambient, but Shetty's vocals are strong, overly penetrative even. They need to be toned down compared to the instrumentals. For a while, it seems like it'll sound like an Indian ballad, but eventually the song disappointingly morphs into more of a pop tune. And then So Sweet, featuring Brazilian singer Virginia Nascimento, appears with plenty of power, but again, another Spanish-guitar-laden ballad. While the vocals are certainly nice, this one also feels cookie-cutter-cut from any pop album from the 2000s. At this point, the electronic album I came to expect from Jam & Spoon isn't coming to fruition, in favour of a pop/downtempo album filled with excellent production values and fine vocalists. Despite the duo's history, this production doesn't make them seem too out of their element. There is a lack, however, of much beyond genericism here. In a world where hundreds, no, thousands of pop/ballad albums are released every year, Tripomatic Fairytales 3003 isn't doing much to stand out except to throw as many vocalists into the mix as possible. But I trek onward to Butterfly Skies, once again with Plavka. And mercy, it sounds exactly like the time it comes from. A slow, acoustic guitar-led tune where, apparently, "my butterfly heart will tell me this is my time". So... is Plavka a butterfly now? I thought she was a person. Unintrusive and pretty darn harmless, Butterfly Skies is yet another tame entry into their discography. This one ended up being another single release. Something To Remind Me continues the downtempo trend, this song featuring the vocals of Scottish songwriter Midge Ure. I have to admit, this track sounds really good. I love the dark and direct synths they shove in your face, giving it a slightly chilling synthpop feel. Ure's vocals also reinforce the synthpop vibe, imitating those of popular 80s new wave band sounds, including Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys, and Human League. Going back to electronic roots, Something To Remind Me is a surprising highlight. Mary Jane wastes zero seconds in blasting guitars into my ears, causing my eyes to bleed and my axillary regions to moisten rapidly. Mary Jane does indeed refer to marijuana, referenced by "Mary Janes and the jaded generation" and "smoke dreams". Featuring the vocals of Mark Gardener, lead singer for Ride, this song feels more like a generic alternative song from 1994. Pleasant sonically, but it's missing something to hook the listener. Then we ask Why?, once again with Rea Garvey, over very simple reverberated beats. Eventually the instrumentals get thicker, and the song morphs into something attempting to be far more depressing. Nothing particularly memorable, mind you. We're almost done here. Blue Moon Tidal starts out with indeed the rise and fall of a haunting pad, alongside whispers of a tidal wave coming. Suddenly, the beats drop in, and I'm immediately thinking I accidentally switched over to an old Ace of Base album. The vocals also support that theory; Plavka wouldn't be out of place in the ol' AoB. Plavka's voice is really nice here, but the instrumentals just don't seem to be as up to snuff, sounding more like analog wailing than anything melodic or rhythmic. And we close on Junoon featuring Mike Romeo and Shweta Shetty, a combination of Indian-style vocal inflection and reggae rap... and the song's an odd combination, too, of euphoric trance crossed with hard metal guitar work. Overall, the song sounds cool...except for Mike Romeo. His rapping and MC-ing just doesn't belong. Fans of Jam & Spoon from their heyday in the early to mid-1990s may hear slight inklings of their former trance idols here and there, but overall, this is a completely different and unexpected beast from the duo. The production values are very solid, and each song has its own personality. That being said, Tripomatic Fairytales 3003 has an overall pop vibe that mostly fails to be able to stand up to the heavy hitters in pop music with a few too many forgettable tracks and an overreliance on guests (there isn't a single song on the album without a guest vocalist). This was also the last Jam & Spoon release before the death of Markus Löffel in 2006 at age 39. I hope this change of direction was something they wanted, not something they felt they needed to do in order to survive.


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