With so many bands from the 1980s and 90s reforming these days, and who can blame them, it’s with trepidation that I decide to listen to any new material after such a long time away. We’ve all grown much older, listening to new sounds and influence; got married and had kids; lived, loved, lost… and moved on.
Furthermore, for me anyway, I believe it’s more difficult for a band that in their youth were filled with spitting angst and aggression to be still frothing at the mouth and full of enthusiastic ‘we can all make a difference‘ and sloganeering about a ‘wasted youth‘, while celebrating their fifty-something birthday. However good, there’s something not quite right, not quite so edgy when middle-aged men with extra pounds and greying hair attempt to relive their youth along with the odd yet ubiquitous original punk with a colourful mohican and studded leather jacket pogoing for a couple of minutes before retiring to the bar for a mineral water.
It’s 2015, and the UK music scene is awash with nostalgia, bands reforming in name alone without original members or dignity. But then I am asked to review The Membranes new studio album, their first since 1989. In the 1980s, The Membranes were firm favourites of the late John Peel and have since been cited as a big influence by bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Big Black and Mercury Rev. No better excuse to revisit The Membranes and see if they’ve managed to pull out all the stops or make a right pigs ear of a comeback by not leaving the reunion at a few paydays reciting old favs and classics.
The album starts with the meaty big, powerful and brilliantly titled ‘The Universe Explodes Into A Billion Photons Of Pure White Light‘. Dark Matter / Dark Energy opens like the big bang theory.
The album drives straight to the centre of an ever pulsing sun called Planet Prog Rock with a dark alt Kraut Rock underbelly. As I settled in, for what appeared to be a comfortably smooth ride, the album unleashes another side to The Membranes ‘sound’ as they explode into the abrasive rockabilly energy of ‘Do The Supernova‘; and with their familiar abrasive, hard-nosed and jagged noise on ‘21st Century Man‘… I’m hooked.
Dark Matter / Dark Energy is a great album that tightens its grip like a boa constrictor. Three songs deep, and I’m knee-deep in The Membranes, as if they’ve never been away.
I’ll be honest and say, I enjoy 2015 more than 1980s Membranes. Each song stretches my appreciation as the album pulls me from pillar to post. I feel slightly drained, like I’m trying every ride in a theme park, never quite sure if I’m ready for another ride, but enjoying myself nonetheless. On ‘In The Graveyard‘, The Membranes sound expands once more with a slab of mighty white post-punk dub. John Robb plays a throbbing bass line, the likes of Paul Simenon would be chuffed with, while giving his very best Joe Strummer ‘Armagideon Time’ karaoke.
Dark Matter / Dark Energy is a record about life and death, the universe and space itself. The album was inspired by a chance meeting between band frontman John Robb and the head of the CERN project who were working on the Higgs Boson project. The album also takes on Robb’s grieving for his father who died midway through the recording. The music weaves noise, Prog Rock drones, discord, dark dub, free punk, heavy rhythms and ultimately freedom into a unique whole of beauty.
John Peel was a big fan of The Membranes; and he’s never wrong. Maybe I was.
The Membranes – Dark Matter / Dark Energy Tracklisting:
1. The Universe Explodes Into A Billion Photons Of Pure White Light
2. Do The Supernova
3. 21st Century Man
4. Money Is Dust
5. The Multiverse Suite
6. Space Junk
7. Dark Matter
8. If You Enter The Arena, You Got To Deal With The Lions
9. In The Graveyard
10. Hail To The Lovers
11. Magic Eye (To See The Sky)
12. 5776 (The Breathing Song)
13. Dark Energy
14. The Hum Of The Universe
The Membranes – Dark Matter / Dark Energy is released on 20th June on Cherry Red Records.