I just read Trent Reznor's opinions on electronic music, it's less than shocking to find out that he sees most of it as stupid and mindless. He might have a different opinion now, but I'm sure young, brash Reznor would have said the same thing about 808 State's "Ninety" when it debuted alongside his "Pretty Hate Machine" in 1989. Acid house and rave, the sub-genres in which "Ninety" worked, are among the least thoughtful electronic categories. So is the album worth listening to? You bet!
Rave is a technique that's based in repetition. It was typical behavior when 808 State was big, and it's only gotten more pronounced as time continued. Beats are typically quick, with "verse" and "chorus" structures, often with a bridge. I believe "Sandstorm" by Darude is still popular with the kids, and it gives a good idea of what rave encompasses. Less thinking, more dancing (it's no secret that Ecstasy was gaining mainstream acceptance during the late '80s as raves became the thing to do).
The good news is that 808 State came early enough in the game that they didn't need to adhere to the standards now expected of "techno." They used the verse/chorus setup, but different verses took different approaches. Check out "Cobra Bora," which takes turns revolving around different forms of "instrumental" programming. None of the beats are that complex, but at the same time, it doesn't get boring. The bridge dramatically changes directions and comes in the form of a James Bond-style theme. Club-goers probably weren't tuned-in enough mentally to take notice of the group's creativity, but they wouldn't be confused what to do with their bodies. "808080808" most evokes the rave feeling, with a hectic drum machine and electric signals blasting. The bridge sounds like an '80s action flick, complete with a shootout that evolves from ping-pong balls to sci-fi lasers.
Following "808080808," the band reminds listeners that they can take moments to breathe. "Sunrise" features (what I believe to be) a Chinese Dizi flute, and a slow jazz bass line. It's interesting to note the track that made the most performance-chart headway was "Pacific 202," another chill-out song. These two tracks sound more like the burgeoning trip hop movement, such as Everything But The Girl, who we've looked at already.
Trent Reznor has evolved to making complex and professionally erratic electronic beats for his projects, like his new band, How To Destroy Angels. Good for him, but he's a very intense dude. I might recommend he put "Ninety" on and give dancing a try. Guilty pleasure perhaps, but it might kill some stress.
INTERESTING FACT: "Pacific" didn't have any film appearances, but it did appear in two video games: "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" and the earlier "Sonic The Hedgehog: CD."