My favorite 100 albums of all time: #81 ("Hack")
The follow-up to their self-titled album, Information Society put out Hack in September of 1990. This one Takes on a decidedly harsher and more experimental tone than Information Society and failed to have the same kind of success that the debut album did. But commercial success and successful music aren't always the same thing.
That the band is up to new tricks becomes apparent from the first track, which has a darker sound and a sampled voice (the 'net says from Peter Pan) saying "all of this has happened before, and it will all happen again." There's no band vocals at all, just drum machine, synth, and layers of samples.
With the mood established, the band returns to form with "How Long." This one would have fit right in with any of the singles off Information Society. Clearly the band has lost none of its ability to construct a radio-friendly single.
"Think" bridges the ground between "old" Information Society and new. A bit harder than the first album, it retains the enthusiastic pop attitude, but also favors slightly more edgy samples. About halfway through, "Think" cuts into a beat-heavy breakdown collage of samples, before rejoining the main theme of the song.
Hack is laden with interstitial tracks between the main songs that just toy with a few samples before moving into the next song. On the CD these are labeled as 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 3.1, etc. This is when bands were still new to the CD format and playing around with some of the possibilities that it offered. If you check out Hack on streaming services, they'll usually combine the tracks as "Think/Wenn Wellen Schwingen" and so forth.
"A Knife and a Fork", another track that's entirely samples for vocals, is probably my favorite on the album. This one is constructed almost entirely from found parts, the aforementioned "ABC's" sample and the hook from James Brown's "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose."
The imminently dance-able "Now That I Have You" is another old-meets-new track. A celebratory love song, this wouldn't be out of place on the first album with the exception of an extended sample drum break in the middle of the song.
"Fire Tonight," which hearkens back again to the first album, is the only track on Hack that misses the mark for me. It's not terrible, but it's a little uninspired and has an unfortunate synth bit at the beginning I can only describe as "flatulent."
I get hit with nostalgia every time I listen to "Hard Currency." Not because the song is more than a quarter-century old now, but because it kicks off with dial-tone and screech of a modem. Then it lurches into gear with a pastiche of samples about money, highlighting Star Trek, Ernest Borgnine and a few other samples I can't place.
There's a bit of cybernetic cello to "Mirrorshades" that reminds me quite a bit of the Oingo Boingo cover of "I Am the Walrus" – but that's four years in the future. "Mirrorshades," like so many on Hack has an infectious groove about it. It's not a particularly profound track, but it's hummable as all get-out. This track closes with another interstitial, "We Don't Take," which samples a line "we don't take no shit from a machine." Ironic, sorta, given the computerized nature of the album.
James Brown, or at least a sample, is up next in "Hack 1." This tosses James Brown together with Kraftwerk, Beastie Boys, and a few other juicy samples and drum machines.
"Come With Me" is another old-school Information Society tune, maybe even just a little better than the original batch. Solid song-writing mixed with a compulsive need to sample Star Trek. What's not to love?
Hack's final instrumental track, "Chemistry" is a bit forgettable, but it's a competent closer to the album.
What I really love about Hack is that it serves as a bridge between synth pop of the 80s and the industrial rock of the early 90s. It's fun, occasionally weird, and musically solid. It's one of those albums that I can listen to over and over again without growing tired of it, and if I haven't heard it in a while, get a craving to hear again.