I’m one of those people who has a pretty active imagination. My brain is always coming up with fantastic images and constructing new scenarios that place me in a position of hero/victim/lover/killer/etc… Sometimes when I listen to music these images are even stronger and more vivid. However it takes a very particular type of album to make me feel like I’ve joined in on a story, as though I’m an invisible eye that gets to follow along on a journey. These albums are few and far between (for me) and when I get one in my hands, I want to just ease back and follow the story wherever it takes me, just like one does when reading an engaging book.
Having said all of that, I come now to IAMX’s The Unified Field, which comes out today. Fronted by Chris Corner (Sneaker Pimps), this album unfolded in a way I’ve rarely felt, each song a chapter in a story. And since I had such strong images and such a cohesive story in my mind, I decided to change up my review style and instead write out the story I went on.
Now, I have to make it clear that each entry is not affected by lyrics but rather by how the music made me feel. With that out of the way, I present The Unified Field: The Story, as seen by my mind.
Note: Each chapter refers to a specific song except for the prologue and epilogue. The best way to go through this review is to have the songs playing with their corresponding chapters.
He had been wanting to go to a carnival for years. In point of fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he had been to one, so upon hearing the news that one was in town he took it as a sign and immediately went. He parked his car in an empty lot, thinking how odd it was that not a soul was there. He purchased carnival tickets from an old man who was in a small booth with dirty streaked windows and passed through a turnstile. Following a fenced path, he came to a small building, not much more than a shack, actually. He stood in front of the door for a moment before putting his hand on the knob and turning it.
CHAPTER 1: “I Come With Knives”
Entering the room, he saw an old woman, a seer or oracle perhaps, sitting at a small table in the center of the room. Her head was bowed but her hands, which were resting on the scarred wooden tabletop, were gnarled and bony, a testament to her ancient age. Curtains so red as to be almost black covered the walls. A row of young girls each clad in a lacy white dress, ones that resembled something a doll would wear, lined the left and right walls. They kept murmuring a German phrase over and over, their perfect vocal choreography hypnotizing.
He sat down across from the old woman, uncertain yet unafraid. She raised her head and her milky white eyes stared into his eyes and further, seeing him for who he was. All the experiences he had gone through in life, all the emotions he had felt were an open story for her. No words were uttered. He looked at her, she looked at him.
She then closed her eyes and lowered her head, their connection over. The curtains behind her opened up on their own exposing the exit. The girls each raised a single arm and pointed at the portal, their murmuring never ceasing. He stood and walked through, entering a giant tent, the ringmaster standing statuesque in the middle.
CHAPTER 2: Sorrow
The man sat on the only bench in the tent. The ringmaster, still completely still, was illuminated by a single spotlight, dust motes swirling gently around him. Suddenly the ringmaster spread his arms, spun several times as he leaned his head back, and cried out to the heavens. The entirety of the tent suddenly lit up as clowns, dancing animals, tightrope walkers, and more scrambled out of the shadows. They joined each other in a feverish performance, bodies flying into the air and landing on safety nets, clowns tumbling over and under each other, men and women spewing fire into the air. All the while, the ringmaster slid amongst them, showcasing each artist.
And as suddenly as it began, the performance was over and the lone spotlight shone. However, this time the ringmaster was positioned in a bow, his top hat in one hand pressed against his chest while his other arm was swept out beckoning him towards another opening that the man hadn’t noticed before. He stood up, passed by the ringmaster and proceeded through to find himself standing in the midst of the carnival, the sky overhead and the salty smell of the ocean gently stinging his nostrils. Directly ahead of him was a building that had a billboard proclaiming “SEE THE WORLD OF THE FUTURE”. Thinking that this was as good a place to begin as any other, the man handed over two tickets and stepped through.
CHAPTER 3: The Unified Field
It was like entering a 1950’s electronic expo, was his immediate thought. There were lifesize robots that beeped and booped, their eyes naught more than red light bulbs. Cartoonish futuristic model cars hung by strings, as though they were flying. Paintings showed cities with skyscrapers piercing the clouds. Ray guns emitted vibrating sounds.
For as childish as the entire room was there was still a great deal that made him smile. It wasn’t that any of this was going to be real in his time. However, the knowledge that people aspired to this warmed him and filled him with hope. It was pleasant to think that people still cared what tomorrow would bring.
He made his way to the exit. Outside, he came face to face with the Freak Show. Two tickets lighter, he entered.
CHAPTER 4: The Adrenalin Room
He entered a hallway with curtains regularly spaced on the right wall. He approached the first set of curtains and pulled them apart. He found himself face to face with a bearded woman, separated only by a sheet of glass. As their eyes locked, she suddenly pointed at him and began to laugh. Confused and somewhat offended, he closed the curtains, her muffled laughs still following him.
He moved onto the next set of curtains and pulled them aside. Two women conjoined cheek to cheek stared at him. Their lips were joined at the corner, creating an impossibly large mouth, their inner eyes separated by mere millimeters. Patches of thin hair grew where their heads were joined. They looked at him and shrank back, not out of shame but rather it seemed out of disgust. Something about him was repulsive to them and he had no idea what. He closed the curtains and moved on.
With each curtain that he pulled back, he was met with reactions that baffled him. The Human Worm, a man with no arms or legs, spat onto the glass sheet. The Half Man/Half Woman simply turned his/her head, placing a hand over his/her eyes. The tattooed woman, not a single part of her body untouched by ink, screamed in horror.
He was the freak in this land and he wanted out. He made his way quickly through the hall and burst through the exit, his breath coming in ragged gasps. Stumbling forward, he found himself resting his arms against the rails of a pier.
CHAPTER 5: Quiet The Mind
He watched as clouds lazily moved across the sky, white cotton puffballs floating in a cerulean sky. His nostrils were toyed with by a variety of scents: the smell of dead fish rotting on the sand below, the algae accumulating on the dock posts, the salt of the ocean. He raised his face towards the sun and closed his eyes, fingers of wind running through his hair. Every so often, a gentle mist of water would land on his face and he’d run his tongue across his lips, savoring the saltiness. Seagulls cawed overhead.
Feeling more at peace with himself after the horrors of the Freak Show, he walked along the pier until he spotted the Tunnel Of Love. He took three tickets from his stockpile and sat down in a hard plastic boat. He heard a switch flick and was carried into the dark tunnel.
CHAPTER 6: Under Atomic Skies
As he passed by scenes of animatronic men and women on park benches kissing and cupids firing heart-shaped arrows, he thought less and less about the images he was seeing and began to retreat into his own mind.
He remembered women he loved and women who had loved him. He remembered nights where, after sweaty, passionate sex, the two of them would sleep facing each other so that they were the first things they saw upon waking up. He remembered nights where the two of them had fought, screaming and yelling to the point that they nearly lost their voices. They slept with their backs to each other.
He remembered the hearts he had broken and those who had broken his. He remembered everything he learned from each experience and how it shaped him into the person he was today.
He left the ride with tears in his eyes, his heart almost beating out of his chest. He walked into the nearest building, handing off a handful of tickets without care. He needed to clear his mind.
CHAPTER 7: Screams
There were rows of chairs with an alley in the middle, every seat empty. Lights illuminated a small stage at the far end of the room, their light splashed upon black curtains. He sat in the front row, the chair creaking slightly as he put his weight upon it. His heart still aching, he anxiously awaited the beginning of whatever was to transpire. After a few moments, the curtains parted.
She was wearing a corset, fishnet leggings, high heels, and black elbow length gloves. Her hands on her hips, one leg cocked out, and her face was facing down and to the left. The top of her breasts heaved ever so slightly with each breath she took. And then she began to dance.
She effortlessly glided across the stage, her hands caressing her every curve. She arched her back and ran her fingers across her lips. Looking at him, she smiled, her blood-red lips contrasted by her alabaster teeth. His breath was caught in his throat as he watched this woman perform her burlesque dance, fusing art and sex into the most erotic of theater. His eyes were locked on each hypnotizing movement. He was so caught up that he didn’t realize it when the curtains closed.
CHAPTER 8: Come Home
He walked around the carnival with no attraction to go to in mind. Everywhere he looked, the carnival folk were beckoning him to their attractions, promising an experience like none other. However, he kept walking, some strange sensation convincing him that he had not yet found his destination.
He took in the smells of cotton candy and warm pretzels. He let himself be dazzled by the lights and sounds. He walked amidst the tents, the carnival games, and the rides. He watched as balloons that had been fighting so desperately against their string bondage became free and floated into the sky, the wind bobbing them back and forth, as though they had their own dance.
And then he turned a corner and came face to face with what he knew to be his next stop.
CHAPTER 9: Animal Impulses
He straddled a wooden lion that was reared back on two legs, its mouth agape in an eternal roar. Painted with rich colors and gilded, it shone and stood apart from the other animals that were a part of this carousel. Unicorns, frogs, horses, and dragons held no appeal. It was the king of the jungle that drew him in.
The ride began and the lion rose several inches before coming back down as the carousel started its dizzying spin. Lights began to blur and the carousel music distorted, twisting into something that was almost nightmarish. Although he couldn’t be certain it was real, he seemed to see all of the carnival denizens circling the ride, laughing manically, their smiles stretched wide like a shark’s grin. Faster and faster he spun until he began to black out. The last thing he heard before the darkness enveloped him was the roar of a lion.
CHAPTER 10: Walk With The Noise
He came to on a rollercoaster already in motion. The creaky wooden car flew down inclines and sped around sharp corners, each time threatening to come loose and go flying into the air before coming to the Earth in a deadly crash. But it never did. And soon his cries of terror became yelps of excitement as he urged the ride to go faster. He let go of his fear and embraced the uncertainty of whatever would come next.
The ride eventually came to a stop and he left the ride breathless and lightheaded. His smile was impossible to wipe away. He never felt so exhilarated in his life. As he climbed down the stairs leading away from the platform, he realized that the bottom of the stairs led into a gigantic tent. He embraced the uncertainty of whatever was next and entered the tent.
CHAPTER 11: Land Of Broken Promises
Once again, he was in the ringmaster’s tent. Well aware of what to do, he sat on the lone bench and placed his hands on his knees, waiting for the show to begin. Or rather, for it to end.
The lights slowly came on as the entire carnival cast began filing in behind the ringmaster. They began moving slowly, swaying into a dance, each offering their own farewell to him. Their movements became more intense, their dances almost feverish. This was the kind of send off that only kings received.
The man stood and walked out, leaving the carnival behind.
CHAPTER 12: Trials
The man got in his car and began the drive home. However, instead of taking the left path, which he knew like the back of his hand, he took the right path simply to see where it would take him. Each new curve in the road exposed new land to him. He was an adventurer seeing things that no one else had ever seen before, or so he liked to believe (even though he knew it to be false).
Each time he came across a path he knew, he took a cue from Frost and took another road, one less travelled.
Hours later, he turned down the street where he lived.
He parked his car in his driveway and sat in the driver’s seat savoring the silence of this mechanical womb. He reflected upon the day, everything he had learned and experienced, everything he faced and triumphed over. He got out of the car and walked up to his front door. He unlocked it, placed his hand on the doorknob and turned. He was finally home.
The Final Word: If you’re not into reading my short story (and I’m not offended by that at all), lemme put it simply: The Unified Field is a glorious piece of art that showcases the incredible creativity of IAMX. It’s one of those albums that demands multiple listens and stays with you long after the last note fades away.