ALBUM REVIEW: Gunship – ‘Unicorn’

Artwork for Gunship’s ‘Unicorn’

Oh yeah…Gunship are a thing, aren’t they? You’d think they’d be more memorable overall, given how ready their fanbase was to pounce on any assertions that Dark All Day wasn’t a good album (which it wasn’t), but maybe that’s just how it goes when there’s so little musical nutrition to go on. That album came out five years ago now, and the single prevailing memory of Gunship is their slavish desire to ‘80s synthwave, in a way that subsumed anything approaching a cogent idea or identity in favour of laying that devotion bare. It doesn’t matter how airtight your stylistic recreations are, or how many big-name guests you can bring onboard; without the songs to keep it all steady, you’re just going to sink.

And with half a decade now to process that, you’d think that Unicorn might seek to redress the balance. But if anything, nothing has moved. Gunship still seem fit to bore into the ideals of ‘80s nostalgia for basically everything they do with no concession to what they themselves can add, and once again, Unicorn suffers immensely for it. To be kind, it’s a display of how limited and inflexible Gunship’s ‘80s palette truly is; to be not-so-kind, it’s a chore to get through that burns through its best ideas in the first half (charitably), and sees fit to crater any and all creative impulses for the remainder of this hour-long brick of synth buzz.

It’s the consequence of caring so much for aesthetic to true musical inspiration is cast so far aside, it’s barely on the board anymore. If that’s the intent, then obviously Unicorn is a roaring success, but empty-calorie nostalgia-baiting with nothing beneath the shiny, neon veneer is obviously not a good outcome. It just leads to an album that drags incessantly, not helped by how little variation there is the chugging synth progressions. It’s not as propulsive or weighty as Gunship clearly believe it to be; if anything, it’s just tiresome, big and expensive in a way that loses its luster remarkable quickly, and with basically no resistance. If Zack Snyder were making films in the ‘80s, this would be the audio equivalent.

It’s not even worth singling out individual tracks for the most part, either; there’s barely anything to single out! As far as highlights go, Empress Of The Damned is head-and-shoulders the best song here, partly for its industrialised dance-pop throb, and partly because Lights is such an engaging vocalist that carrying a song like this requires little effort. There’s also some cool bits of The Prodigy-esque styling to crop up on Blood For The Blood God and Nuclear Date Night, and in general, the front half that’s loaded with guest stars makes for the most appealing fare, if only to see how they’re all used and arranged. Granted, there’s not a ton that comes from that, seeing as most don’t get to show much of themselves off, instead falling into Gunship’s maw to be spat out as a nominal vocaloid fit for purpose. Between Wargasm’s Milkie Way, Busted’s Charlie Simpson and Bush’s Gavin Rossdale, there’s barely an inkling of personality among them. They’re simply just parts of an objectively impressive array of guests, plugged into place with barely a thought given to what uniqueness they could possibly bring.

It’d likely be more preferable than Alex Westaway, though he’s barely a presence here in his own right. He’s got a voice that’s fit for Britrock—fine for a tenure as co-vocalist in Fightstar—but against the tide of incessant cinematics in which maximalism is the default setting, he doesn’t stand a chance. And so, when he’s left to fend for himself as a singer here, there’s a distinct lack of awareness among Gunship of how prominent that weakness can be. It’s one of the reasons why Unicorn’s last leg is such a drag, where Westaway’s use as a functional mouthpiece just doesn’t gel with the overall intentions. On top of that, pretty much from Ghost onwards, Gunship begin to cycle through their bag in tricks in even more obvious fashions, and it becomes so easy to lose interest when it’s padded to that extent.

And that says a lot on an album that’s already not too shy about boxed-in its supply of ideas is. It’s all incredibly similar stuff all over the place, from the analogue synths to the gated percussion, to the saxophone that trails through about half-a-dozen songs here, and sounds more perfunctory every single time. At least Gunship’s affinity for this sort of thing shows; they’re aware of what beats are the right ones needed to sound ‘genuine’ (to where the drum pad stings on Weaponized Love are almost identical to those on New Order’s Blue Monday). But where’s the humanity behind that? It’s the thing that’s always made Gunship felt like such a sterile product, an act built on the presence of references than any greater application of them. They’re nothing close to interesting lyrically, and when each immobile musical monolith might as well just be another standardised stop on the vaporwave grid, is there any excitement to be gleaned from that? Really?

And thus, it’s telling how much backup on Unicorn comes from those established names in ‘80s—or ‘80s-replicating—synthwave work. Here, you’ve got John Carpenter, Tim Cappello, Tyler Bates and Carpenter Brut, the appearance of all of whom feel like a roundabout way of Gunship legitimising what they’re doing without the need to stake much of a claim themselves. It’s a borderline genius tactic, circumventing any accusations of laziness to where the defenders will now believe there’s empirical evidence for why this is good. And while that’s more on those loud, isolated voices who’ll spend their time screaming at the defence of an act they have no more personal stake in than said act themselves, you have to believe that Gunship are aware of that. It’ll keep them around, after all, despite how short their runway would otherwise be. Without it, there’s no way an act running this short of ideas would have accumulated the reach they have, and broken out beyond an occasional side-project at best. What’s most telling, though, is how, regardless of that reach or the budget they’ve got or the big names they’ll align themselves with, Gunship never cease to be utterly forgettable.

For fans of: John Carpenter, Carpenter Brut, the concept of an ‘80s film score

‘Unicorn’ by Gunship is released on 29th September.

Words by Luke Nuttall

18 thoughts

  1. Lol, not sure I experienced an review this uninformed and full of bull**** and generally disconnected from any sane thoughts. Everybody can write reviews these days.

  2. Luke Nuttall – you’re an absolute gimp mate…a clueless review for a clueless individual. I have now listened to the album twice to get a true feel for it, it’s a f**king masterpiece.

    My advice?…quit your day job 🙂

    1. Agreed! This review is insanely poor! Unicorm is an amazing album amidst a chart-led world full of utter tripe!

      Gunship all the way!

  3. I’ve never read such a hateful hit piece on my life. The reviewer clearly doesn’t understand music and the evolution of Gunship from the first album to this release. Utter shite

  4. I’m not well versed in music reviews, but holy shit. This reads as some of the snobbiest, gatekeeperish shit I’ve ever seen. It is almost like the reviewer has an actual axe to grind against the band itself, or the genre. Who hurt you?

    I hate 80s music (or at least I thought it did, growing up in the 90s) but Gunship almost singlehandedly revealed how wrong I was. Not to mentioned how novel their approach to music and songwriting in general is. Like holy shit, I could not have a more opposite opinion than this reviewer does. I don’t even listen to much EDM anymore. Tech Noir 2 by itself is a master-class in how to take a known and beloved quantity and somehow against all odds, improve upon it in every conceivable way while SOMEHOW retaining all of the originals DNA. Wild stuff.

  5. This is a confusing review. Genuinely think it might be clickbait. If it isn’t, soundboard are either getting desperate for reviewers or they aren’t vetting submissions. As a professional writer myself, this was written with a clear agenda and isn’t close to an actual review of actual material. Subtext throughout is negative. I don’t love every track but could review it constructively and in a way that is balanced. Absolutely amateurish. Poor.

    1. ‘Gunship never cease to be utterly forgettable’ – much like this review then. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.. this one though is amongst some of the worst, and I’ve read Mein Kampf.

  6. I put the review into chatgpt to see if it was my own bias that was leading me to think the writer is insane. In answer to the question, “is this review of a new album fair and balanced” Chatgpt says: The author of this review has a somewhat critical and potentially biased perspective on Gunship’s album “Unicorn.” The review consistently leans towards negative commentary, and the language used suggests a level of personal frustration or disappointment with the album. While critical reviews are a common part of music journalism, a more balanced and objective approach would provide a fairer assessment for readers.

    Think that sums it up.

  7. I’ve listened to this album over twenty times already. My wife loves it. My daughter loves it. This review was written by a jaded failed musician or someone who was left by someone for another mate who loves Gunship. 

  8. Im not a fan of this album at all but I really do enjoy the previous two. I think Technoir 2 was ruined by the chorus from the second singer and many of the other tunes are just too much bubble gum for me. I think looking back in 5-10 years this album will pale in comparison when compared to the first two.

  9. Luke Nuttall, you’re command of the English language is really poor. The SPAG mistakes make me wonder if this is a legitimate review. In any case, as mentioned above NO-ONE agrees with you. Gunship rules – nuff said kiddo ; )

  10. Who is this reviewer that gets top review on Google??

    I’m a 61 year old guy the album is great have the previous 2 albums this is the best produced

    Fan of

    Depeche mode
    Above and beyond

    Ha ha

    Guy is an idiot

  11. Was this supposed to be a music review, or just a subjective expression of your personal taste? HAHAHA, how much nonsense I’ve read today, in fact, I didn’t even get halfway through your text, you didn’t use a single valid argument, just spewed your personal taste, terrible review.

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