It is with some trepidation that I approach writing this review. Mark Stewart‘s is a name with baggage, usually accompanied by the laurel wreaths of legend status, hailed as a hero by half of the hippest musicians currently in circulation. For my own part, I would count some of his records from the ’80s with The Pop Group, the New Age Steppas, and The Maffia as amongst the decade’s finest. And yet every time I put this CD on, I found myself cringing and turning it off again before it was even half way through. It’s just such a bloody noise of rather boringly rock guitars and leery old men shouting. It somehow manages to sound both hopelessly juvenile and wretchedly senescent at the same time. I kept thinking of John Lydon’s butter adverts.
To be fair, there are some very talented people doing some fine old turns in amongst all the mess. Bristolian dubstep producer Kahn lays down jittery, anxiety-ridden beats on opener, ‘Vanity Kills’. Youth’s production on ‘Want’ swirls and throbs in all the right places. The Raincoats’ Gina Birch’s vocal on ‘Stereotype’ hits just the right note of glacial blankness over a Factory Floor backing track with a delightful little slurred synth note just hovering in the middle distance. But my god, it would’ve been a damn sight better without Keith Levene’s one-take tossed-off guitar line that is so obvious and over-familiar and uninspired that it’s hard to believe it was played by the same guy who played on Metal Box, and not some secondary school guitar teacher (or one of his less skilled pupils).
And then there are the guests that are just, like, what? I mean, Kenneth Anger on guest theremin? Like, is Anger really well known in avant-garde circles for his virtuoso thereminism (all that film stuff, oh he just did that for the cash, really that dude’s all about making whooping noises with a metal stick. . .)? Or did you just want to put Kenneth Anger’s name on your record sleeve like a badge of underground cool? I hear the b-side has Fidel Castro on bongos and a triangle solo by the ghost of William Burroughs. And please, please Mr Stewart – and indeed everyone, anywhere – don’t make another record with guest vocals by Bobby Gillespie. Think of the children. What a tragedy it would be if a whole generation grew up thinking of Mark Stewart not as the urgent, visceral force behind ‘We are all prostitutes’ or the sinister, dysfunctional robot presence on ‘Hypnotised’, but some horrible old fart larging it in a cab with Bobby bleeding Gillespie.
Thirty years ago, Stewart was a pioneer of the genre-mashing soundclash, bringing punk energy to a freakish melange of hip hop, dub, funk, disco, techno. Today, post-internet, post-everything, there are countless artists doing just that, and doing it themselves, with their own hands, rather than just hanging about in a studio telling other people what to do and shouting about how important you once were. In the end, this latest rock/electro hybrid just sounds for the most part like the Sisters of Mercy. And not in a good way.