On reviewing The Membranes supporting Killing Joke I mentioned need to explore the band further and founding member John Robb also of Goldblade and the person behind excellent website and magazine Louder The War was quick to heed my call. Pitching last studio album Dark Matter / Dark Energy (2015) along with new remix album Inner Space / Outer Space my way, I had almost 2 ½ hours-worth of music to voraciously consume. Damn, being the work of a fellow writer and editor I best sound like I know what I’m talking about here.
The Membranes were originally about as early as 1977, well before terms like ‘post punk’ were dreamt up and were widely respected before disbanding after 6 albums. Reforming due to popular demand around 2009 they played various shows constructed around the heavy theme of ‘the universe explained’ going way beyond the music itself and no doubt getting on the radar of an intellectual contingent of scientists and astronomers along the way. Everything led up to the cosmos expanding album Dark Matter / Dark Energy, a Hadron Collider of ideas that would take an essay (and indeed one accompanies the liner notes of the remix album) to fully explain. Sticking with the music and to contextualise the new remix material, the album proved as complex a listening experience as the narrative itself. It’s no easy job to actually departmentalise genre wise as it flows taking in everything from (post) punk to industrial, Indie, dub and beyond. Listening to it my first thought was “boy I bet John Peel loved this lot back in the day,” as honestly it sounds like sitting down to listen to a cross section of his show, enjoying it every step of the way. None of the bands I mentioned live particularly sprung to mind but dipping in I got the long shoegaze instrumental flow of a group like Levitation, the tribal industrial bombast of Big Black and the lurching grooves and skewed vocals of The Fall. It’s one of those albums that anyone listening to will find completely different signifiers themselves but of course it is all wrapped up in its own unique and compulsive fashion as it creates and disassembles through the course of the journey like the universe itself.
Moving on to the remix album Inner Space / Outer Space, tracks like the wonderfully entitled ‘The Universe Explodes Into A Billion Photons Of Pure White Light’ are all manipulated by a wide array of bands and artists breathing new and sometimes strange life in them. It’s a huge cross section genre wise again too and the names involved show just how revered The Membranes were in the first place due to those getting involved here. That first number for instance has patches of everything from Floyd to Funk courtesy of Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield. Some numbers are short and punchy and really stick out such as ‘Do The Supernova’ an obvious quick fix and back in the day no doubt a worthy single. It’s given a jagged club dance vibe by Philip Boa a name anyone familiar with The Voodooclub will remember. Pitched up next to him is Clint Mansell who also disseminates that first “Universal” number in a way much more synonymous of recent excellent soundtrack work than back in his days with the Poppies. The two tracks act like chalk and cheese placed next to each other, changing the pace from frantic to soothing. You can always rely on Justin K Broadrick to pump things up and the Godflesh mix of ‘21st Century Man (nope not a King Crimson cover) is suitably acerbic and adrenalized. Heavy dub and even some dubstep laden W)))ob effects have Reverend And The Makers taking the ‘Space Junk’ out and an ever mischievous Youth does as he has with many a Killing Joke number and has ‘Hail To The Lovers’ heading off to the sunset and mashing things up in lysergic zeal. Track by track here would take the review several light years too far and you should get the idea by now but the calibre of mixers is kept up and where else would you find the likes of Mark Stewart, Therapy? and In The Nursery all cuddling up together?
Well I got exactly what I asked for here and this trip to the far-flung corners of the musical multiverse has proved a really enjoyable and illuminating one. Both albums work perfectly well in their own right but getting them both together really does the music justice and is the perfect way to go. As for the band themselves, seems there’s no stopping them now as they go from supporting Killing Joke to The Sisters Of Mercy. Don’t know about space but The Membranes definitely seem to be hitting the final frontier this time round.
(8/10 Pete Woods)