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Artist: The Benjamin Gate
Label: Forefront Records (2002)
Length: 12 Tracks (43:54 minutes)

More often than not, the album following a break-out debut is greeted with a combination of hopeful anticipation and guarded optimism.  While such reservation is largely the domain of those whose job it is to critique such things, the pragmatic viewpoint does hold water when one considers the seemingly infinite supply artists who, after generating stellar first efforts, either resorted to endless lesser imitations of the original or faded from the public view altogether.  Hailing from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the members of the Benjamin Gate hit the ground running with their inaugural outing.  Fueled by its driving rhythms, mercurial guitar work and heartfelt vocals, Untitled gained significant commercial and critical success, vaulting each of its three singles into the Top 5 on the rock chart and pulling down Dove nominations for Modern Rock Song, Album and Video of the Year.

From the first strains of Contact, it's clear that the energy and passion that fueled the first record made the trip to the second album.  Songs like "Need" and the album-opening "Lift Me Up" attach the group's characteristic verve to a ballast of driving modern rock, while the slightly syncopated "Do What You Say" leans more towards the trip-hop flavorings of the first Plumb release.  The prominent synthesizer flourishes and hiccupping start-stop dynamics of "Fall Away" reflect everything uniquely engaging about Missing Persons' cache of idiosyncratic early '80s new wave artifacts.  And "Overkill" attaches the endearingly quirky tension and paranoia of the Men at Work original to a lumbering, bass-heavy hulk that clears a path every bit as wide as that of its musically frenzied forerunner.

In much the same way, the lyrical side of Contact shadows the debut by virtue of its straight-on delivery and mostly vertical slant.  Entries like "Need" (I want to be/ So close I disappear into you) embody the passion and immediacy that stamp the lion's share of the group's writing.  "Your Kisses Blind Me" (Beautiful you are to me/ Moon above a raging sea/ Flame of fire inside of me), on the other hand, opts for pictorially rich prose and an almost nursery rhyme cadence, with equally shimmering results.  "The Way You Are" (The way you are/ Couldn't bring more joy/ Couldn't free me more to live) employs similarly romantic phrasing for its stirring relational celebration, while "Light" (I'll be your/ I'll be your/ I'll be your light) chooses to hammer its point home through simple repetition.

Where Untitled was a mostly ambient affair, replete with heavily distorted guitars and swirling, atmospheric backdrops, Contact sports a decidedly rawer, more organic texture.  But, even stripped of the sonic accouterments that informed the debut, the tracks on the sophomore album compensate with a heightened attention to hook and melody that catapults them well out front of their predecessors.  And the less embellished approach lends the new release an engaging sense of spontaneity that makes its tracks sound as if any one of them could have been captured on the first take.  Indeed, from almost every angle, the new record outdistances its imposing forebear.  If Untitled was a sparkling collage of aural textures and loops to stand back and admire, Contact stands as a gloriously rollicking roller coaster that scoops the listener up with its opening notes and hurls them across a magnificently dizzying course from start to finish.

Bert Gangl 6/2/2002



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