J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Return Trip:
Pop Will Eat Itself
This is the Day...This is the Hour...This is This!

Pop Will Eat Itself
This Is The Day...This Is The Hour...This Is This!
(RCA ; 1989)

There's a lot to be said for unique band names. Pop Will Eat Itself (PWEI) has a name that has stuck in my mind ever since I first heard someone mention them back in the mid-90s. At that point they had sailed past their heyday, but it was still a confrontational and thought-provoking name. It had enough clout to wedge itself into my thoughts until this year. This is the year I finally did my research and dug up the album widely regarded as their finest, 1989's This is the Day...This is the Hour...This is This!

I'm sure a lot of people saw the connection back in 1989, but if there's a greatly over-simplified way to describe this record, it's as the industrial-tinged fraternal twin to the Beastie Boys - heavy on samples and a ridiculous amount of pop culture references - even sporting a cross-genre guest appearance (alá Kerry King of Slayer's guitar work on the Beasties' seminal "Fight For Your Right") similar to the cross-pollinating atmosphere of Def Jam records. Their relative obscurity in the United States is as tragic (and sometimes as bewildering) as the failure of any other brilliant British band who failed to break America. (The Jam, anyone? I still can't figure that one out.)

Let's start by talking about the sound of the record, and here there is a keyword: Flood. The album was produced by Flood, easily one of the names in poppier industrial circles throughout the late 80s and early 90s. This is one of his earliest production credits (after spending years as an engineer) and it's full of the signature hard, metallic dance beats that permeate a lot of his best known work. It's a beautiful match for vocalists Clint Mansell and Graham Crabb whose hybrid of Shaun Ryder-esque holler and rapid-fire (for the late 80s anyway) rapping creates a constant onslaught of energy and verbiage.

The pop culture references are endless in the music of PWEI. McDonalds, comic books, James Brown, Rick Astley, The Warriors, Blade Runner and countless other references pepper the lyrical pell-mell. "Can U Dig It?" calls out comic legend Alan Moore and his V for Vendetta graphic novel (Moore's Watchmen gets its own due in "Def. Con. One") in addition to having the title and main sample of the song lifted from the film The Warriors. These sort of counter-culture references are all over the map and are melded and juxtaposed with blatant mentions of the more garish parts of pop-culture; "Preaching to the Perverted" grabs the phrase "Astley in the noose" from the Wonder Stuff's excellent song of the same name, mock-threatening the most harmless of harmless. Fittingly, the Wonder Stuff's Miles Hunt lends backing vocals on "Wise Up! Sucker," creating a great mix of power-pop and industrial snark.

All of this lyrical culture grabbing would be one thing, but the samples that flow through the record are the likes of which haven't really been heard since copyright law caught up with sampling. 1989 really was a golden year for this type of production and from that standpoint, I think This is the Day.. is every bit the equal of the Beastie Boys' masterpiece, Paul's Boutique. With movies (the aforementioned The Warriors and Blade Runner), television and music (L.L. Cool J., Public Enemy) all covered in various songs throughout the record, it's a brilliant example of culture grabbing. No where on the record is it more fully realized and more brilliantly used than on the darkly ironic "Not Now James, We're Busy." A song about James Brown's 1988 arrest for assaulting a police officer, it uses vocal samples from various Brown songs in order to create a conversation between the third-person narrators of the story and Brown himself. The song, a lampooning of the man arguably responsible for so much of hip-hop's sound due to the frequent and brilliant sampling of his music, has an irony not lost on the band as the song itself pirates one of Brown's famous drum beats.

While the sound of this record is firmly tied to the time in which it was created, it's still an invigorating and incredible listen. Easily one of the most fun records I've discovered in recent years, even in its serious moments (including the seeming harsh self-inditement of "Wake Up! Time to Die..") it teems with an energy that could only come from a group pushing the boundaries of art. Culture jammers who still, obviously, had an ear to the radio, they created an album that deserves a far wider audience than it has ever generated.

Rating: A(udiophilic) / E(xcellent)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Pop Will Eat Itself - "Wise Up! Sucker"

Pop Will Eat Itself - "Can U Dig It?"

Pop Will Eat Itself - "Not Now James, We're Busy..."

Buy a used copy of This is the Day... at Amazon.

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