The premise is this: the Royal Academy of Arts has been sold off to an anonymous Chinese billionaire and converted into a luxury playboy mansion. Through the cover art, we can anticipate that the building’s former purpose will now provide a thematic décor for the pontification of the wealthy and the privately debauched. In Lek’s accompanying digitised impression of the mansion itself – which handles like a late 90s PC game – we see sculptures and paintings scattered amidst garish rooms of velvet and sickly patterns, preserved as testaments to the owner’s formidable wealth and the illusion of acute artistic knowledge (i.e. an eye for “the greats”). There is no art, only the hollow echo of art – the cold, valuated aftermath of emotional investment and painstaking technical finesse.
The soundtrack is mournful. Restrained. Cellos and voices stay safely within the confines of solitary ideas, as expressive as the rules of the house permit them to be. The Pärt-esque arpeggiations of “Mergers & Acquisitions” feel as though they’ve been balanced atop a plinth in the front garden, precise and obediently pretty. Where there are voices, they are choral strands that swell into grand marble hallways and toward beautiful ceiling arches, descending unobtrusively upon the mansion’s esteemed party guests. There is a sadness running through the entire thing (particularly during the lethargic choral ambience of “Slow Dancing”, during which Coates thumbs his cello like a troubled sleep-talker), as though the academy’s acquisition symbolises a bleak shift in the world’s relationship with art. As strings and choirs droop during “Memorial To Hitchens”, I’m hearing the blood and warmth of art oozing out of a broken wound, leaving just a petrified body of colour and shape, ready to be idly admired over limitless wine and conversational drivel.
“Enjoy your purchase. The world is yours.”