A GUEST CONTRIBUTION by ACIDTED
Sixteen Different Flavours of PWEI – ICA
I’ve admired all the ICAs over the years and read the majority. I was going to do one on Weatherall but Swiss Adam beat me to it (and, frankly, did a better job than I would have done). But it’s rankled that the spread of artists has left out one of the most successful acts from that fertile period of the late 80s through to the mid-90s. I talk of the mighty Pop Will Eat Itself (hereinafter PWEI). This ICA has been two years in the making, hoping that someone else would remember their glittering brilliance. I can wait no longer. If no-one else it going to do it properly then I’m going to have a half-arsed go at it.
PWEI seem unfairly airbrushed out of UK pop history. They were never cool. But they were better than many (Hello, The Fall). They had 11 Top 40 UK hits in the period 1989-1994. Fundamentally, they were fun and raucous but capable of striking an unexpectedly political note. This ICA is a double album. 16 tracks (14 on the regular LP and an extra two on the remix 12″) in honour of their Sixteen Different Flavours of Hell track, which was also the name of their 1993 compilation album.
PWEI, originally Wild And Wandering, started in the mid-80s and their members included Clint Mansell, Graham Crabb, Adam Mole and Richard Marsh. They were famously named after a phrase in a David Quantick review in NME of Jamie Wednesday (who would go on to become Carter (The Unstoppable Sex Machine)). On with the music…
1. Def Con One 7″ Mix (from Feasting Frenzy)
A kinda chronological set of hits on this side. But starting with their final single before breaking into the Top 40. The Poppies’ early work had been indie racket, Grebo and a bit of a mess. The less said about Beaver Patrol the better. But then they clearly had a bit of an epiphany with The Beasties Boys and gleefully grabbed onto the hip hop sampling with guitars that defines their best work. Starting with scratching and a sample this blasts us into orbit with their party vibes and adoption of popular culture icons, with the chanting of “gimme Big Mac and fries to go.” I should admit that for many. many years I misheard it as “Big Mac and the price of gold.”
2. Can U Dig It? (from This Is The Hour… This Is The Day… This is This)
More party vibes here. Lots of rocky guitar and lyrics that are a list of all good things. These include AC/DC, Twilight Zone, Optimus Prime, Run DMC, Terminator, Hit The North and “Alan Moore knows the score.” In the wrong hands this could be a drunken closing time singalong. But it’s way more fun than that and the selection shows a balance between low brow and high brow.
3. Wise Up! Sucker (taken from This is The Hour… This is the Day… This is This!)
Although this follows the guitars and samples of Can U Dig It? it’s a sort of love song to lost love. The chorus of “She Loves Me. She Loves Me Not” It’s also where the Sixteen Different Flavours of Hell lyric comes from. But the angry title is also a warning. All very blokish, yes. But great nonetheless.
Ahead of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, they released this cracking track that showed a different style. There’s still hip hop here. The title steals from New Order and references Italian pornstar Ilona Staller. But it also takes in dub and in this version dispenses with shouty lyrics altogether in favour of something that should have been used as the theme music for the ITV World Cup goals show reel. Sadly, that was not to be. The Bull in the title is a reference to their West Midlands roots, support for Wolves legend Steve Bull.
5. Dance of the Mad Bastards (taken from Cure For Sanity)
The shoutiness returns on this track but there are funky drummer breaks, funk bass and a greater sense of space and self-confidence. I’ve always assumed the “get Up And Get On It” is Lemmy from Motorhead. But I don’t really know. This track also marks their move from hip hop into the fringes of house. They would get closer still but never quite gave up their fondness for industrial and axe attacks.
6. X, Y and Zee (taken from Cure For Sanity)
This track from 1991 and the successor 92° mark the closest they got to house music. But it’s also a more obviously political track. Hidden among the pop culture references to George Jetson is an environmental and unity theme.
This starts off with that optimistic house staple the choppy house piano that sets a lighter than usual musical tone. There’s talk of a “hardcore dance floor.” And in a UK that was getting more house obsessed by 1991 this got to #23 in the Charts. Proper wave your hands in the air stuff.
8. Karmadrome (taken from The Looks or The Lifestyle?)
This 1992 track ends side 1. It also marks a step back from house music and back towards hip hop and industrial guitars. But it also has the most wonderful choir chorus of the title, starting at 0:50. As they say, “The Power Exists in Everyone.”
9. PWEIzation (taken from Very Metal Noise Pollution EP)
Side 2 is more of a delve across the PWEI archives. And it seemed fitting to start with this tune that seemed almost like a theme track. This offers a rallying cry, to keep watching the skies. A signal to cure isolation. Sirens wail, guitars tumble and beats clatter around in wild abandon.
10. Not Now James. We’re Busy (taken from This is The Hour… This is the Day… This is This!)
A paean to James Brown. But with the Poppies usual undercutting humour he isn’t allowed a look in. Whenever JB wants to “get up and do my thang” he’s told “Not now James, we’re busy.” In actuality the track is based around James Brown’s arrest and jailing in 1988 following a car chase that started in Georgia, went through South Carolina before returning to Georgia, where he was arrested.
11. Ich Bin Ein Auslander (taken from Dos Degos Mis Amidos)
A turn for the straightforwardly political. A track that asks us to face attitudes in England towards immigration and identifies with the other. It talks of the “rise of the right” and shows that today’s Stormzy controversy is nothing new. The track takes Eastern instruments and a load of Led Zep samples to produce probably their most powerful track. Musically works today, politically still sadly works today.
12. Bulletproof! (taken from The Looks or the Lifestyle?)
After that, something lighter. Is Everybody Happy? The young and invincible sounds of Bulletproof! More singalong choruses than you could shake a stick at and even plenty of “yeah, a-ha” for the terminally stupefied.
Although the title As the album starts to wind down a bit of Lewis Carrol referencing in the title to this track. Alice is absent but what you do get is a dubbed out version of this track from 1992. The beats do sound a bit dated in places but the Ofra Haza sample and thundering bass drum dub save it. It’s a bit of contemplation of mortality with its references to Belushi and private hell.
Although PWEI disbanded in 1995 (despite a brief reformation in 2005) there is a Pop Will Eat Itself going today. They are clear that they’re a different band, despite having a couple of original members. But they’re not out of ideas. This funky Brazilian influenced attack on FIFA’s management of the beautiful game stands up alongside anything from their heyday.
Graham Crabb had a career as Golden Claw Music producing serious ambient sounds after PWEI folded. This wandering 14 minute ambient remix of PWEI’s only top 10 hit shows that this was some time in the gestation. It’s an industrial ambient track full of alien menace and waves on the shore.
Cape Connection – Transglobal Underground Cossack In UFO Encounter Confusion (taken from Two Fingers My Friends!)
Before they disbanded PWEI released a double album of remixes from which this track is taken. It ranks among their finest. And this is the standout track. PWEI’s guitars are set far back. World Music Beats and tablas are brought to the forefront, with the most enormous bass drum. All topped off with a Russian choir. What more could you ask for? Play loud. Very loud.
PWEI were pop stalwarts that never got the credit they deserved. Their more serious moments didn’t get fully acknowledged. But for a singalong party they can’t be bettered.
PWEI ICA, a playlist by acidtedblog on Spotify : A playlist featuring Pop Will Eat Itself
This dropped in to me over the Festive period. It put a huge smile on my face as acidted has been my longest-serving guest contributor – it was the fact that so many of his efforts were wiped out by Google when they took the old blog that got me particularly angry.
He was also the first non-Glasgow blogger I ever met face-to-face – way back in October 2009 when I was down in London to watch the Tampa Bay Buccanners get thrashed by the New England Patriots – and to my eternal shame we haven’t managed to get together in person since that Sunday morning. But we have stayed in touch by e-mail over the years – and I will always be in his debt for the times he stepped in to keep TVV up and running when personal circumstances meant I had to take a couple of extended breaks in 2010 and 2011.
PWEI were on my list of ‘must-do’ ICAs. I’ve written preciously about some of the songs in this amazing compilation and there’s a number of others that I would have included in a future effort; however, I wouldn’t have been able to bring you Reclaim The Game or Cape Connection as I wasn’t aware of them until now.
Thanks mate. Hugely appreciated.
Oh, and there’s a few more equally wonderful guest ICAs coming up over the next few weeks, all of which I’ve been sitting on for months. Cheers to the contributors for their patience and understanding.