If Power Asks Why is the new offering from composer Martin Hall, this time joined by pianist Tanja Zapolski, mezzo-soprano vocalist Andrea Pellegrini, and, hidden in the background, arranger Alexander Zapolski. For many of our readers, Martin Hall may well be a figure whose name has only been mumbled in relative silence amongst friends, and even then, a name that is every bit as forgettable as a John Smith doesn’t exactly stick to one’s memory. Martin Hall was borne out of the punk aesthetic, with his career in music stretching all the way back to 1979 when he pioneered the punk genre in Denmark through the projects Identity, Before, and Ballet Mécanique. It wasn’t long before, in 1985, Hall began to pilot his solo career into new territories with a synthpop sound, quickly garnering the support of corporate labels like Virgin — a partnership which lasted all the way into the mid-90’s. Without going into full-on biographical detail, it was a half-decade of meandering about for the project until, in 2003, the Panoptikon label was formed with Inskription specifically for Hall’s creative output — a label that would later, it seems, merge as a sublabel for A:larm Music.
Regardless of his past and affiliations with large labels, Hall has always seemed to be a relative outsider in the business end of the music world — a fact which, over the years, has eventually culminated into the climactic If Power Asks Why. This new album features an attitude not unlike Boyd Rice or Brian M. Clark with lyrics that are dominated by sarcastic humor and a nearly violent, absolutely brutal honesty that is critical of both unnamed specific individuals and various social circles, if not societal norms as a whole. This, when combined with compositions that are almost entirely constructed by an operatic vocal and piano approach, enhances the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) humor within some tracks, while also illuminating the emotive side, be that the desperation of “Dead Horses on a Beach”, the maddened, murderous tone of Pellegrini when the accented “You’re a male, but you’re a cunt!” rolls off of her tongue in “Rather Quotable than Honest”, or the absolute, frustrated fury of “Hope is a Lack of Information”. In the end, it is the way that this emotion is conveyed when put against the stark contrast of the more humorous or cynical moments that is the crowning achievement of If Power Asks Why, be it the brilliant, beautiful chorus in the foreboding lounge of “The Stench of your Pity” when contrasted with the ridiculousness of the closing paragraph, or, even on a purely musical level, something like the random Latin verse in “Feeling like a God”.
In short, lyrically, the cynicism, in every imaginable form, is almost overwhelming, which — for a creation that is purposely geared towards sombre drama for the sake of thematic consistency — should certainly be expected. The theme of the record is fitting with the sociopolitical interests of the majority of the vast post-industrial world, with intelligent cultural criticisms taking the lion’s share of the focus lyrically. Perhaps Pellegrini’s vocal effort, as profound as it is, would be the only turn-off for some listeners on If Power Asks Why as there is an array of alternate instrumentation beyond the complex piano melodies that Zapolski puts into motion, at least for those whom are not used to the operatic form. Let me be clear, though — despite Hall’s modestly experimental past, this is a very familiar form of contemporary classical music with a few twists mixed in for character. It is the approach that makes If Power Asks Why unique, and the end product is far better than could possibly have been expected.
01) Dead Horses on a Beach
02) Rather Quotable than Honest
03) MILFs, cum and Schopenhauer
04) A Garboesque Leaning
05) Feeling like a God
06) The Stench of your Pity
07) Hope is a Lack of Information
08) Notes on Self-destruction
09) If Power asks why