The Shamen began as a fairly straightforward rock band, releasing albums like 1987’s Drop that revealed the band’s psychedelic inclinations. When the Shamen started becoming a U.K. hitmaking machine in the early ’90s, with a string of successful singles like “Move Any Mountain” and “Ebeneezer Goode,” it was a different animal altogether. It didn’t take long for the Shamen to leave behind the ’60s- influenced rock and embrace the dancefloor. 1989’s In Gorbachev We Trust is truly the Shamen’s transitional album; while still incorporating the psychedelic elements, the band began to rely more heavily on the atmospheric synthesized sounds that would eventually help it achieve international success.
The opening track “Synergy,” like the rest of the album, only gives a hint as to what kind of band the Shamen would become. Although not much different from anything on previous releases such as Drop — the band hasn’t entirely abandoned the somewhat artificial “retro” sound — “Synergy” incorporates the pulsating beats and keyboard flourishes that would define the Shamen’s sound. The 1960s influence is also evident in “Sweet Young Thing” (not surprising, since the Monkees had recorded it 20 years previously). The unusual combination of swirling psychedelic guitars with sound effects and the hard-hitting synthesized drums is typical of the album’s sound. “Jesus Loves America” is the hardest track here; the scathing lyric (“Jesus loves America/but I don’t love neither”) and sardonic vocal make the song an uneasy but compelling listen.
By the time of Gorbachev’s 1989 release, the Shamen’s primary members were Colin Angus and Will Sinnott. Sinnott drowned in 1990; afterward, Angus pushed the band even further onto the dancefloor, adding rapper Mr. C and various female vocalists. These touches helped flesh out the Shamen’s sound; Gorbachev, while an impressive effort and an important part of the band’s development, lacks the energy and excitement of the Shamen’s later dance-oriented releases like En-Tact and Boss Drum. On Gorbachev, the Shamen seem a bit unsure of the new direction, often coming across as a less radio-friendly Jesus Jones. But In Gorbachev We Trust is a must for Shamen completists; it is interesting to hear its evolution from somewhat bland ’60s-influenced modern rock to melodic, techno-dance staples. Fans of the Shamen’s later material may find the more primitive-sounding Gorbachev a bit hard to take. But every band has to start somewhere.