Looking Back on: Rob Dougan, Furious Angels.

(Yet another random CD review from my old website, YHCOR, though this review was one of those random-ass things I wrote about something I still actively listen to today, so it’s more relevant than a review of a 30 Seconds to Mars or a Celldweller CD, so I opted to repost it first.)

Rob Dougan. No, you haven’t heard of him, unless you bought the Matrix Reloaded soundtrack, and then you’d know of him as Rob D. (You’ve almost certainly heard something he’s made, though.) A techno DJ with decent lyrical skills, Dougan released a CD this year of music produced, if the booklet is any indication, entirely by him. (This was back when anything that was entirely electronic was “techno” as far as I was concerned, back before I knew the difference between genres. Well, enough that I don’t call everything “techno,” anyway.) For the most part, it’s a powerful piece of work that basically seems to encapsulate the artist as a whole, but when I say it’s not for everyone, well, you can be sure that I’m pretty much right about that one.

First, a little background: The case itself contains two discs: The first is “Furious Angels”, the offering itself. (Wow the structure of that sentence is more tortured than Wesley in The Princess Bride.) The second is “Instrumental Versions”, which, as the name implies, is instrumental versions of several of the tracks on the CD. Now, the obvious question that comes to mind is “How do you make an instrumental version of a vocalized song?” Well, you take the vocals out. (I have a very general idea of what I was going for there, but GOD DAMN I face-planted the landing on it.) So, Rob presents us with a different question: How do you present an instrumental version of a non-vocalized song? Answer: You don’t. Seriously, you have a song on the main CD titled “Instrumental”. Then, when I pop the second disc into my computer, Instrumental is there again, but it’s titled “Instrumental (Instrumental)”. So I don’t understand why you would include songs that were ALREADY instrumentals on an instrumental CD. (That might sound like a joke, but no, that is literally how Rob Dougan rolls.)

Now, the point I’m trying to make by noting the above is simple: Rob is a weird man. (YOU DON’T KNOW THE HALF OF IT EARLY 2000’s ME.) The two videos included on the Instrumental disc are “Furious Angels”, which features him being drug on his back through a city somewhere to an upside down car, where he is draped over the unconscious/dead body of a woman trapped in the car; (On repeat viewing, this video was something of a metaphor for death and loss, which was the entire theme of the album for the most part; more likely his soul was being dragged back to his body in the car wreck or something to that effect, though the video ends at the “wrecked car” point and we don’t go any further, so it’s hard to know where the concept was going.) and “Clubbed 2 Death”, which has him standing in a city reminiscent of the 1920’s in design, only to start running around at warp speed while everything around him travels backwards. (There are no vocals to this track so I think this one was mostly just an experimental thing that looked cool.) Um, yeah. His songs are very fascinated with the subject of death in general, and draw references from strange places. “Speed Me Towards Death”, for example, is listed as being inspired by Jean Cocteau’s “Orphee”, and Emily Dickenson in general. “I’m Not Driving Anymore” was inspired by the script for “Scent of a Woman”… not the movie itself, mind you, just the script. (Rob in general showed a very strong fascination with love, loss, death and everything in between, which is almost certainly why the CD works as well as it does; everything means something, even if it’s only to its creator, and there’s something behind it beyond a beat and a competent knowledge of programming.)

And then we come to the actual music itself… well, it’s different, I’ll say that much. (Sigh. This was about a year or two before I got into music really hard and started trying to learn things about it, so the framework is there, but I don’t really have the knowledge to go anywhere with it.) Rob has a thing for strings, as most of his songs seem to present orchestrated backgrounds with some mild programmed beats over top, to a fairly interesting effect. (Back in 2006 he was talking about releasing a classical CD so clearly he has influences in the classics.) The music itself is very well presented, and many of the tracks are songs you could easily picture being played at your local dance clubs.

Then we come to the vocals. Rob is kinda rough as a singer, to be blunt… his singing style is very straightforward, and he rarely varies his tone and pitch, which leads me to believe he knows his own shortcomings in that department. (Rob is one of those weird vocalists, like the previously mentioned Tom Waits, who knows his voice isn’t great but covers for it with passion and a specific vision of where he wants his music to go. You don’t always have to be a good singer if you can be an effective one.) However, his voice often strains and cracks, not because of his vocal limits, but because he forces it to, which lends the music a very emotional quality, like he’s trying to fight back the tears as he’s singing the song. It’s a surprisingly powerful tactic, and lends the songs an emotional impact they might not otherwise possess.

The song writing is also very strange, as Rob seems to be set on the idea of making each track profound and full of angst. “Furious Angels” features such powerful lines as “Love, like an invisible bullet, has shot me down and I’m bleeding”, and makes numerous references to death and bleeding. “Left Me For Dead” contains the line “Judas remained, you turned and fled”, and talks about vindication and murder, though it appears to be more of a symbolic effort than a true story in execution. “I’m Not Driving Anymore” features lines like “I’m not fit for consumption”, and, well, I’m not sure what it’s about. You get the idea. (“I’m Not Driving Anymore” is almost certainly a song about abandonment and feeling like you’ve been screwed over by the one you love most, and given the aforementioned point of being inspired by the script from Scent of a Woman, is probably inspired by the early parts of the script, which are rife with hints of betrayal and suicide. This CD was written over a period of years, so a lot of this probably comes from a bad breakup at best and pure depression at worst. Just so you know.)

It also bears notation that, according to the liner notes, he’s been writing various bits and pieces of this CD since 1996. Seven years to make one CD… and, from the time I’ve spent listening to it, I can certainly see the effort it took in each song on the disc. (See above.)

So, is this CD for you? Probably not, but it IS a good CD. If you’re looking for something slightly mentally expansive, and curiously obscure, this is a good buy. If you’re looking for something more mainstream, though, keep your distance, because this is definitely music that is designed to make you think. (What’s funny is, Dougan got a decent amount of critical acclaim for Furious Angels, then came out publicly and said he was working on a couple more CD’s… and nothing came of it. The last anyone heard of him directly was back in 2008, when it was mentioned that he was a vineyard owner, but aside from appearing on a soundtrack in 2009, he’s basically just… not doing a lot musically. He does have a Twitter account, though, assuming it’s actually his anyway, and from reading it over, he apparently has a strong interest in the various atrocities going on around the world, as well as classical music and theater… and may or may not be a bit… unwell, mentally speaking. Not that I’d expect anything else of course, but sometimes Twitter just lays bare the reality that backs up your speculations on the mental state of those you, even slightly, admire.)

And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a damn good thing.

I’d give it a 7 out of 10. (I’d probably say 8/10 now that I’ve had a bit more time in life to analyze and process the CD; it speaks more readily to me these days, I think, which says… something.)

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