Michael Cullen – Love Transmitter
Release Date: August 01, 2012 (Reissue)
Record Label: Independent
Sometimes, records just get lost.
With the sheer number of album releases that are available to us in this day and age, it’s easy to let so many of them pass us by, especially when them come from unknown or lesser known artists. Such is the case for Michael Cullen, an Australian singer/songwriter whose dense, dark, and trippy debut, called Love Transmitter, recently got reissued in a search for new listeners. A hybrid of a bunch of different goth-rock and post-punk bands – Joy Division, The Cure, and New Order are the most obvious influences – Love Transmitter is more or less what Beck’s Sea Change would have sounded like if it came out in the 1980s, and if that comparison can't grab Cullen a few listeners, then I doubt anything can.
According to press materials, Cullen wrote and recorded this album in a haze of heartbreak and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That haze is evident all over this album, from the tranquilized Tom Waits vibe of “Hey Sister” to the trance synth dirge of album opener “Do You Believe?” This album legitimately sound like a guy at the end of his rope, and that fact alone makes it captivating – even if the songs themselves sometimes get dragged down by Cullen’s own emotionally catatonic state.
While this album got a reissue in 2012, it’s apparently been floating around for more than a decade now. Cullen says that the album was written and recorded in the fall of 2001 and the early winter of 2002. That fact means that the album's dark 80s vibes were at least a decade too late to capitalize on the leftover interest in dark, dancehall-oriented rock music (Achtung Baby, anyone?), but also a year or two too early to really land in the middle of the 80s revival that would be spurred into the mainstream by bands like the Killers and Franz Ferdinand. In a lot of ways, then, Cullen’s sounds here were touching similar ground to what Interpol would hit (also in 2002) with Turn on the Bright Lights. Interpol’s record was embraced by the critical community, more or less kickstarting the renaissance of 80s goodwill in indie rock circles. Cullen’s record, meanwhile, was obviously not embraced in the same way, but the songwriter’s darker, more ponderous songs were absolutely cut from similar cloth.
Love Transmitter isn’t really an easy record to get through, if only because the songs are consistently shrouded in layers of musical and lyrical gloom. This certainly isn’t an album you’ll throw on at a party or for a fast summer drive, nor is it an album that will get as much attention as the other, more digestible 80s throwbacks that hit between 2002 and 2005. In the right mood, however, it’s possible that a lot of different listeners would find something to love here, from the guitar-heavy charge of “All Used Love” (which plays like a scuzzy forerunner to the sleazy Vegas intoxication of the Killers’ Hot Fuss) to the uneasy vocal multi-tracking of “Spill” (which wouldn’t sound entirely out of place on a Mansions record).
The album’s best track, though, is “Transmitter,” a dark bar-bound tale of obsession that boasts the record’s most memorable chorus. “Don’t blink, don't blink, your life could be over before you finish that drink,” Cullen drawls, the kind of biting quip that this album is full of. You can’t quite tell whether he’s sad, pissed off, wasted, or in a state of perpetually not giving a shit, but that fact, the enigma of Cullen's delivery throughout this album, makes it a consistently compelling listen. By the time we reach the end of track 10 (aptly titled “Closer”), Love Transmitter has served up enough misery and hazy confusion for any afternoon or evening, but even if this isn’t a record you put on repeat, it’s still one that’s hard to forget about once you’ve listened once.