As I’ve been writing about the various albums in this series, there’s been a couple of common denominators, one of which is that a lot of the artists and albums I profile tend to be hard to fit into one genre or description. Pop Will Eat Itself is one of those bands and This is the Day… This is the Hour… This is This! was definitely an album that defies description.
Were they an industrial band? They’ve definitely got elements of industrial, most especially on their later albums. But they also have elements of pop, rock, punk and hip hop. To be completely honest, I’m unsure which year I even learned of them. I’m going to say early 90’s, before 1994 but not too much before. 1993 maybe? I was a big Nine Inch Nails fan at the time and I remember reading about a band called Pop Will Eat Itself (or PWEI for short) had signed on with Trent’s Nothing Records. Interestingly enough, after that, I would be introduced to their music not via the radio or Much Music but from a tv show about comic books on Ontario’s version of public broadcasting called TV Ontario.
The show was called Prisoners of Gravity and it was all about comic books, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. One particular episode was about music and it’s connection to speculative fiction. The show mentioned a band that made numerous references to the comic book Watchmen along with some video clips.
At the time, the two comics I worshiped were Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen. The following week, I went to Sam the Record Man in the Upper Canada Mall (Newmarket, Ontario) and bought the album that had the one song title I managed to grab from the episode. It’s one of the rare instances where I basically bought an album without hearing an entire song.
I’m glad I did.
This is the Day… is different. It’s fast for the most part as the slowest song is somewhere around 93 beats per minute. The lyrics are filled with pop culture references from comics to music. Clint Mansell (who’s name may sound familiar, we’ll get back to him) delivered vocals in an a style that was almost the love child of rock and hip hop. Possibly the most amazing thing is, This is the Day… is PWEI’s second album. Their first, Box Frenzy, has moments that are good but you would never expect that band to come out with an album and sound as complete as the band featured on This is the Day….
The music borders on industrial and rock most of the time with samples and the occasional drum machine thrown in for good measure. The producer of the album was a guy named Flood. Flood was just starting to make a name for himself. Shortly after this album, Flood would go on to produce Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine and follow that up with Depeche Mode’s Violator.
It’s hard to take many tracks out of this album as their own entities as so many sounds and musical themes make one song slow into the next. It’s an interesting cacophony of sounds with beats and samples and pop culture filled lyrics. Take “Def.Con.One” for example. The song features samples from Iggy and the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” Beastie Boys’ “Time to get Ill,” and the television show The Twilight Zone all with Mansell spitting out verses about Watchmen and Big Mac combos.
It’s kind of like an album filled with easter eggs. Every listen you hear something you haven’t heard before. Sure, you may have heard the Tears for Fears sample in “Radio P.W.E.I.” but did you catch the drum sample from Genesis’ “Mama” on “Shortwave Transmission on ‘Up to the Minuteman Nine?”
But yet, while this album is dense with sound, it’s still accessible. It has a bit of everything for everyone. A little industrial, a little rap, a little dance and a bit of nerdiness to sweeten the deal.
From the moment you turn This is the Day… on, you’ll realize there’s nothing quite like it.
Unfortunately, Pop Will Eat Itself never really found the fame they deserved. They would have a brief flirtation with world wide fame with their album Dos Dedos Mis Amigos but they never broke through like I thought they should. Lead vocalist and one of the main song writers, Clint Mansell has gone on to be quite the film composer with plenty of scores under his belt like Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream and Mute.
There are a few things I learned from This is the Day… and being a fan of PWEI on a whole.
It’s very possible to do a variety of things on a single album with a variety of sounds but yet still have an album that is accessible.
Being connected with a huge superstar doesn’t mean that band will become huge. By all rights, at one point PWEI had a rocket strapped to their back but no one really ever lit the fuse. Which in someways is okay. The band had a solid following and they made some great albums.
It’s okay to talk about comics. It sounds weird but at this point, comics still had a little bit of a stigma behind them. They were what nerds liked. And while PWEI definitely were on the nerdy side of alternative music, it kind of made me feel better about talking about comics in public. Given that part of my life is talking and writing about comics now, that’s probably a good thing.
Next week, the soundtrack to a 90’s film that every good alternative kid had in their collection.