There was a time when Pop Will Eat Itself were the most important band in the world. To this boy at the end of his school years and just after, at least. Their intergalactic punk rock hip-hop, driven by trashy grebo riffs and sample-juggling, with rapping and singing in pouty English accents, was futuristic, technological, energetic, dirty, political. It was iconoclastic. For a quite remarkable amount of time, nobody else was really doing what the Poppies were — at least until U2 briefly stole their schtick. *ahem*
Well, you can see where this is going. We live in a post-cyberpunk world now, not to mention essentially a post-genre world. Crossing hip-hop with rock is old-school. Electronic music is the norm. Even their industrial overtones tend to date their sound, for all that Cold Cave et al are reviving a sort of post-punk industrial pop.
The new Pop Will Eat Itself are essentially a completely new creation of Graham Crabb, going it alone without Clint Mansell, who’s quite satisfied making superb low-key soundtracks to the likes of Duncan Jones’ Moon. After breaking up in 1996, PWEI had a brief reformation in 2005, but Mansell quickly pulled out due to other priorities, as did Richard March, and the band with Crabb as frontman morphed into the Vile Evils. But somewhere in the last couple of years, he decided they’d be the Poppies again, and I suppose it has Clint’s blessing (he probably couldn’t give a fuck).
You won’t be surprised that the music is basically exactly what they were doing in the mid-’90s. But less inspired in the electronics department. It’s nice to hear some drum’n’bass beats creeping in there, but given how anthem-ridden and trance-influenced the current mainstream d’n’b scene is, it’s not really that… interesting either, is it? The bleeps and bloops of acid house and chunky motorik mid-heavy riffs don’t really have a lot to say in the twenty-tweens.
Lyrically, Crabb was never the most incisive. But ‘Equal Zero”s “We don’t want chumps, we don’t want suckers, we don’t want pimps, those sly motherfuckers” is catchy enough, as much as — you know — “Gonna get the girl, gonna kill the baddies, and save the entire planet”. And here I am, already singing along with it.
So it would be unfair to imply that the album falls flat. It’s a fun enough throwback, there are some fine breakdowns, and you don’t go to the Poppies for melodic variety. And I suppose you don’t go to a re-formed late-’80s/’90s band to be inconoclastic. Back then it was already about the future as visualised by the recent past. Now it’s about nostalgia, in which context this album brings the goods.