Mark Stewart is the nicest and least violent person that you could hope to meet but his music is war.
It used to be that the scene in The Man Who Fell To Earth, where Bowie-the-alien is learning about the world via several TVs tuned to different stations, was as clear a representation of the modern condition of information and sensory overload as possible. Nowadays of course there have been more extreme, manic film moments of rapid cuts of found footage, multitudes of screens, (wars to births, car crashes to whales and waves) but, somehow, they feel redundant as the internet supplies a world of images as random and chaotic as a speed freak on LSD could desire or imagine. In fact, to the extent that imagination is almost redundant.
Dub always suggested this chaos, even if the parts were made up of a few humans in a studio and a producer removing rather than adding the confusion to make more… confusion. The Pop Group’s take on dub, including the recent release of their debut album dubbed up by Dennis Bovell understood this. Even if the collage poster that came with the actual debut back in 1978 was a 2D version of the psychedelic experiments in films like If… and Walkabout the music itself had space, room to allow the listener’s imagination to make their own shapes.
The Pop Group’s singer, Mark Stewart’s latest album of collaborations kicks off with what sounds like the whole world kicking in your door and demanding where the drugs are. Then a slow version of Moroder’s I Feel Love riff sets off, as programmed by Front 242 (unless they just sampled the original) with Mark clinging on, gleefully. There’s a unique quality to his singing, with the lungs of a free-jazzing saxophonist, using lyrics as sound-plus-suggestion, onomatopoeic percussion-posters. When words are clear enough you get a sense of hipster-paranoia, Lee Perry nonsense angels dancing on each shoulder urging solutions that will just create more trouble. It’s a certain kind of fun for a certain type of music fan and Mark sounds like he’s having the most fun of all, even if the result is mainly Pentecostal improv.
The collab with Eric Random, (Ghost Of Love) is welcome relief from the unrelenting gunshot snares of the Stephen Mallinder, Consolidated and Pansonic Ye Gods co-productions. Here is some acid space. Visions of Mark throwing himself around in a knackered warehouse to this, his voice fragmented as he comes closer to impart wisdom then hops off again before you get a chance to process the message. It could be the answer to something very important; it could just be ‘you’re looking good’. Which is also important Next is Adrian Sherwood’s dub of Outlaw Empire, with its spaghetti western chords and a lovely sax solo breezing by.
On Kk Null’s NEW ERROR it strikes me, as Mark introduces the track that, with his clear and emphatic diction he could get work voicing adverts or as a continuity announcer. There would be something appropriate about that, if you believe that meaning can change with inflection (and if you listened to BBC R4 news bulletins about Jeremy Corbyn a few years ago you might well believe that). Then… a big bag of distortion is delivered to your ears. And then… the track All My Senses eventually escapes through the sonic curtain, a rock song that, compared to what we’ve just heard is like drinking a glass of water after eating a glass. Until a jet airplane takes off and the outro bombs the airport.
Sorry, can’t help it. Even if Mark Stewart is the nicest, probably non-violent unless provoked chap you could hope to meet, his music is a war.
Unless it’s a kid playing with an echo machine (or two kids, or three kids) as Adrian Sherwood chauffeurs Lee Perry out into the crisp Swiss valley where Scratch lived for much of the last part of his life, to giggle and have fun with him and Mark in the cow pastures, buzzing with low frequency bovine farts. This is a proper goodbye to the Originator and a lovely way to finish this aural assault of an album.
Crayons, not bombs.