The Mobile Homes – Tristesse


Swedish melancholic synth quintet, The Mobile Homes, formed back in 1984 as admirers of Depeche Mode but only released their debut album in 1990. Most people in Sweden know them for their 1998 self-titled LP produced by Kraftwerk legend, Karl Bartos. A twelve-year gap in their discography between 2009’s Today is Your Lucky Day and 2021’s Trigger might have worried their fanbase, but the praise lavished on their triumphant comeback record two years ago inspired them to continue. Tristesse is the group’s eighth studio album and might be their darkest offering to date.

Named after the song, ‘Still Life in Mobile Homes’, by English art-pop legends, Japan, The Mobile Homes locate their current sound somewhere between the hit-or-miss electronic lush of Smashing Pumpkins and the metronomic introspection of the last three Depeche Mode offerings. Opening instrumental, ‘Wedding Night’, is an underwhelming way to start proceedings, laying down the sorrowful synth arpeggios and multiple channels of keyboard waves as if auditioning for a contract with Mute Records. High-register guitar samples echo like a homage to the early Simple Minds catalogue, and an electronic snare pulsates with the same steam effect as Ultravox, but you wonder if there is more to come by the time it ends.

Fortunately, the subtle theatrics of ‘Some Days’ follows in the mould of a European stadium anthem for a hall full of German goths. The timbres here are orange and green, despite the bubbling synth bass and loud crash of the programmed drums. Vocalist, Hans Erkendal, has a confident grasp of the baritone register in his smooth word-delivery, like a cross between Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys) and Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode) with Billy Corgan’s scarred croon waiting to break through. The paradox of this music is its greatest asset – you can shake your hips to the beats, yet you can also gaze out of the window at the incomprehensibility of the world beyond.

Fans of the group’s late 1990s and early 2000s period will remember a heavier direction, when they introduced guitars into the mix and beefed up their rhythmic attack. Fragments of this more aggressive side remain in ‘Throne’, where Nitzer Ebb’s Bon Harris makes a guest appearance. The spiky synth bass and high-reverb drums vibrate with a layering of arpeggiator sequences. A permanent sense of empty-hearted sadness pervades through the action, even when it becomes clear that this is a swipe at self-serving politicians. Your ears will enjoy the squelching intensity of ‘In Memoriam No One’ as much as your instinctive shoulder movements. This is hard electronic rock with a goth sensibility. It masquerades as a radio-friendly piece of alternative pop for the nostalgists of the early 2000s who remember The Killers as a defining band of their university years. Yet the harmonious croon in the middle eight is straight from the A-Ha playbook.

Sometimes, the influences jump out at you like a leaping salmon. ‘If You Ask Me’ could take its place on any Psychedelic Furs record from the early 1980s. Your mind can already picture an accompanying video with an awkward teen girl suffering under the exterior of a brave smile. ‘The Last Third’ uses the same A-minor brilliance of ‘See You’ by Depeche Mode and succeeds in working towards a chorus that delivers the lump in the throat with the same poignancy as a classic Pet Shop Boys tune: “Oh, this darkness has opened and blinded/ And damaged my eyes tonight/ Almost my life tonight,” laments Erkendal in a melodious uplift of voice.

The Mobile Homes know which formula works for them, and they see no need to deviate away from it on this record. Yet nothing feels tired or contrived. The ringing guitar chords in the chorus to ‘Conclusion’ will remind you of the lonely beauty of The Cure. How they merge this with the pathos of A-Ha and incorporate Japan into this mix deserves a wider study. You can mask the misery inside with music like this. Melodies drizzle in front of your eyes like melting snow shapes. The lyrics to closing track, ‘Inferior’, throb with an honesty that borders on conscious self-pity. “I lower my submissive gaze / I am inferior to you forever.” Ouch!

The world can be a lonely place, but The Mobile Homes can pick you up and dust you down, ready for another day. You know that life will pass you by with each year. Sometimes, a bottle of wine in a quiet room is just what you need, free from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Maybe this is what your parents’ generation felt in those rare moments of solitude? It’s the closest you’ll come to a lived experience in the 1980s.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 22/09/2023

Record Label: Wild Kingdom

Standout tracks: Throne, If You Ask Me, The Last Third

Suggested Further Listening: Smashing Pumpkins – Cyr (2020), Pet Shop Boys – Release (2002), Depeche Mode – Memento Mori (2023)