Pop Will Eat Itself
Cure For Sanity
Pop Will Eat Itself, better known as PWEI, were once one of the giants of British music. They were one of the founding acts of grebo rock, a short-lived sub-genre that saw bands incorporate everything from punk to industrial to sampling, to dance music in their music. Grebo eventually got swamped out by Madchester, BritPop, and grunge. Grebo was a Midlands music form, centred around Birmingham. Along with PWEI, the Wonderstuff (who had a close relationship with PWEI, founders Malcolm Treece and Miles Hunt were members of the first iteration of PWEI), Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Gaye Bikers on Acid, EMF, and Jesus Jones.
Cure for Sanity was PWEI’s third album and, as far as I’m concerned, their greatest. It exploded on the scene in 1990. It emerged out of a time of struggle for the band. They had released an ep in 1988, Very Metal Noise Pollution, and then a single at the start of 1990, ‘Touched by the Hand of Cicciolina,’ which the grand dame herself participated in. But they were otherwise stuck. And so, after a fallow period in the studio in January and February 1990, the band went off on a short tour of the US in April, before coming back to the studio in May 1990, at Black Barn in Surrey. Over the course of two sessions in the studio, each around three weeks long, PWEI developed Cure for Sanity with Flood on the production.
Flood is worthy of a discussion in his own right, and this was his time and this was his place. Flood had got his start in 1981, engineering New Order’s début, Movement, and he worked with Ministry on their early recordings. He worked closely with Mute Records, in particular, Depeche Mode, Erasure, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. He engineered U2’s legendary Joshua Tree. He produced Nine Inch Nails, and Depeche Mode’s Violator, and off he was to the races.
So back to Cure for Sanity. I bought this album at the A&B Sound in Coquitlam Centre in suburban Vancouver, almost when it came out. It was released 22 October 1990, it was in my hands by the end of that month, just in time for the miserable, rainy month of November in the Pacific Northwest. It was on cassette, of course, as this was the cusp of the 90s. I had heard the track, ‘X, Y, and Zee,’ on Vancouver’s commercial alternative music station, Coast 800AM, and was hooked. This was long before that track was even released as a single, in January 1991. It sounded like absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. I had the Wonderstuff by then, I had become hooked on them with their début The Eight Legged Groove Machine and the acerbic single ‘It’s Yer Money’ in 1988. But they were more jangly guitars and some samples. This didn’t sound like American hip hop, either, as PWEI created an entire soundscape from samples and their own music. This was some seriously good shit.
The lyrics were dark, and, well, I was 17, dark was my forté. The album starts with ‘The Incredible PWEI vs. The Moral Majority,’ which begins with an American voice telling us about the power of music, claiming the Greeks thought music was an underlying force of culture itself, and that Lenin (or was it Lennon?) said that music was a means to undermine society. And then God and his greatness. Blah blah blah. But that segues into ‘Dance of the Mad Bastards,’ this crazy, fast-paced, 12 billion bpm, onslaught. All heavy bass and drums before the song kicks in, and the beat becomes bouncy with some distorted guitars and synthesizer over it before the lyrics begin. Good luck if you can keep up with Graham Crabb’s vocals.
From start to finish, this song is a long, battering onslaught. Not as heavy and vicious as Ministry, but in its own right. Track 4, ‘X, Y, and Zee,’ was my favourite song. I played it over and over in my bedroom in suburban nowhere, with the rain pounding outside on another wet, miserable day in Vancouver. We lived on the edge of civilization, we had a deep, bush-filled ravine outside my bedroom window, and a dense forest began across the street. Across Burrard Inlet, we could see the lights of Port Moody, but it was so distant, it was easy to feel like we were the last surviving people on Earth there. Especially on cold, wet, miserable nights like this. And so ‘X, Y, and Zee.’ Clint Mansell (you may recognize his name, he has gone on to a second life as film composer, beginning with Darren Aronosky’s Pi and Requiem for a Dream) offers us a dystopic vision of the future:
From out our window
We can see
Just like the real ones
On Vee Tee
Mother Nature and Father Time
Used to be good friends of mine
But now we’ve put them
In a home
Filed them under “uses unknown”
That segues into a simple beast and Mansell rapping on ‘City Zen Radio 1990/2000,’ which is ultimately an introduction to ‘Dr. Nightmare’s Medication Time,’ and dreaming of a better England with ‘no ID cards/No poll tax.’ ‘Dr. Nightmare’ was always one of my favourites for the samples, which included snippets from The Flintstones and the Beastie Boys, amongst others.
The (in)famous ‘Touched by the Hand of Cicciolina’ appears, in an ‘Edited Highlight’ form, and includes samples from the 1990 World Cup, played in Italy. This is a glorious track, beginning with a herald of a trumpet, before the big beat hits and we get the vocal ‘Cicciolina for Italia!’. La Cicciolina was an Italian porn star who became a politician, and somehow won election to office for Lazio from 1987-92. But it’s the football commentator samples that make this track, from a bellowing ‘GOOAAAAALLLLL!’ to ‘Glorious goal!’ and ‘Oy, yes!,’ all in exclamation.
‘Medicine Man With Forked Tongue’ is meant to hypnotize us before getting on a plane, ‘You can fly without fear, you will fly without fear, you are determined to fly without fear’ before the onslaught of ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Ft.’ I love this track. Like fucking love it. Everytime I get on a flight, and everytime I have got on a flight sine 1990, I hear this song in my head as Mansell narrates the horror:
Well, are you ready for a rough ride? This could be suicide
Turbulance ahead, I think my lunch is on the uprise
Far out! This dread ain’t funky
My hair’s on end, there’s no blood left in me
It’s not the car, or the bus, or the train, it’s the plane
When we hit top speed, it’s always the same
Sweating red-hot but chilled to the bone
Side to side, bouncing on the ozone
Before the chorus:
Junk metal in the air
It’s a total nightmare
At 20,000 feet
Junk metal in the air
It’s a total nightmare
At 20,000 feet
Ha! Brilliant. I may not be like you, I find this funny. I first saw the film Airplane on a plane, too, and thought it hilarious. Last time I flew, I read a book about skyjackings in the 1970s.
‘Very Metal Noise Pollution’ is a hold over from that 1989 ep of the same name. It is one of my favourite songs of all-time, in part for the beat and in part for the lyrics:
And spit it out!
Classic stuff. I also had a great t-shirt with this on it.
This album was a constant companion and then, by the time I finished high school in June 1991, I had forgotten about it. Almost completely, actually. In 2012, I remembered it, and played the hell out of it again, and more recently, it has found its way back into my regular rotation. It is impressive that an album recorded thirty years ago can sound so fresh and brilliant today.
As for PWEI, this was their zenith, though their 1994 album, Dos Dedos Mis Amigos was actually their highest charting album in the UK, and was vicious live, as it was a full-on industrial onslaught with a highly political bent, most obviously in the single ‘Ich Bein un Auslander,’ which was about the rising tide of nationalism in Europe in the 90s. But that was it for them for a long time. The original bad reformed for a bit of touring in 2005, and then split. In 2011, Crabb resurfaced with a new version of PWEI, he was the only original member left, and this iteration of the band saw new releases in 2011 and 2015 that, all things considered were pretty good, but they really just left me wanting more from the heyday of the band.