CONCEPT ALBUM – FEATURE FILM – THEATRE PIECE
It would be all too easy to stumble into any number of pitfalls with a concept album about the vagaries of tech and social media and their impacts, for good or ill (mostly ill) on mental health and relationships. In the wrong hands, it could all smack of “back in my day, we played in the park and didn’t lock our front doors” sentimentality and ignorant Luddism, with an acrid side-serving of “won’t someone think of the children?” So a boatload of plaudits to prolific singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Tim Arnold for deftly avoiding them with his five-years-in-the-making album Super Connected, a social-commentary work telling several interweaving stories.
The lives of a London family-of-four are aggressively co-opted by the internet (the title-track is sung from the viewpoint of the screen-addicted, bedroom-bound teenage daughter) while a sinister surveillance organisation, Picture Sounds, harvests data in order to target the susceptible with its latest invention – a diabolical piece of wearable tech called the iHead. (Picture Sounds are represented on the album by spoken-word “advert” passages from Stephen Fry and one glorious behemoth of a rock song, The Complete Solution.)
Super Connected is best experienced, if you can, as a live event in which the film is screened while Arnold and other musicians perform the songs, with playback filling out the sound. But the good news is that the music works on its own, as does the film.
If Super Connected has an overarching point, it’s that if our online lives are lived at the expense of our offline ones; if we’re excessively enmeshed by the unscrupulous manoeuvres of tech companies, then our real-world connections and aspects of our sanity are at risk. It’s not a new observation, but on this excellent, consciousness-raising album it’s made in ways powerful and idiosyncratic enough that listeners might reconsider how they interact with tech and the internet. I know I will. But even those dismissive of its messages will still enjoy Super Connected for Arnold’s superlative, lustrous prog-pop.
by Charles Donovan (Originally published in We Are Cult)
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