Membranes: What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away

xx membranes

The Membranes might have been going since 1977, and been on hiatus for 30 years in the middle, but the music sounds fresh and they’ve still got things to say.

They’re a combination of pop (some nice synth lines, harmonies), Goth (vocals, dark sound), prog (lots of changes) and punk (visceral). If they were lads of 20 this would be hailed as genius; it’s meatier than the wolves’ and lions’ annual barbecue. Their only problem will be being ignored because they’re old geezers and not 18-year-olds with sneers.

A Strange Perfume opens; the first few bars are tight snare/guitars before a song that could be described a punk prog (if the two aren’t mutually incompatible): lots of technical changes but also an in-your-face directness. The title track is next, a taste of what is to come with a fat bass and some addictive guitar riffs. A Murder Of Crows, on the other hand, opens sounding like The Theme From Shaft, before adopting a noisy crossover between funk and punk; The Stranglers joined by Bootsy Collins.

The 21st Century is Killing Me is momentarily like Peter Gabriel’s Biko before morphing into a jagged Gang Of Four soundalike, then hitting a massive groove of massed singing.

There’s a run of rather charmless tunes in the middle — A Murmuration of Starlings On Blackpool Pier might have a great title but it’s not a great song, spoken word and edgy; The Magical and Mystical Properties of Flowers is ok; Snow Monkey opens with a Zep-style riff. The album doesn’t get going again until Demon Seed/Demon Flower, a cross between Joy Division and something darker, while The Ghosts of Winter Stalk This Land takes in dub and Gong.

The latter half of the album leans towards a pleasing bass-heavy groove; bassist John Robb apparently wants to take over the vacant Dirty Bassist crown from Hooky.

Closer Pandora’s Box is Black and White era Stranglers, mangled vocals, prominent bass and a tune as gentle as Golden Brown sporadically surfacing.

The album has an environmental theme, inspired by a conversation with Chris Packham (who pops up on the album). Life, death, pollution and starlings all figure.

A genuinely different rock album, although best suited to aging punks and goth fans.

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