Fronted by singer, journalist and one-man mohawk John Robb (Sensurround, Goldblade), the Membranes formed in Blackpool in 1977 releasing ‘Pin Stripe Hype (a dig at the New Romantics?), the still-relevant ‘Death to Trad Rock’ and 1988’s Steve Albini produced Kiss Ass Godhead.
Dark Matter/Dark Energy is the first Membranes album since 1989 and was inspired by a conversation with CERN’s Joe Incandela about the Higgs Boson particle and by the death of Robb’s father. The album is a meditation on life/death/afterlife in the cosmos, the relationship and dichotomy between light and dark.
‘The Universe Explodes Into A Billion Photons of Pure White Light’ is spacey and droney in a song that doubles as a metaphor about sex, orgasm and the light of dying/dying light of life.
‘Do The Supernova’ is thumping with whispered asides, its title as a dance, ‘one for the money, two for the show … ‘Do the Supernova!’ that sounds eerily like the ‘Hi-de-Hi’ theme tune. Albini’s fan-as-producer turn is reciprocated with the Big Black/Shellac-sounding ‘21st Century Man’ which has Robb decrying a decaying body with an ever active mind accompanied by doom-laden piano.
‘Money Is Dust’ is an foreboding address on the cashless society, money as/is a form of control, enough for armaments yet not for the populace, Its place at the route/root of misery and once it’s gone so too is the freedom to move without trace, you are a cog in the machine.
‘The Multiverse Suite features Incandela’s narration and is similar in mood to scientifiction author Michael Moorcock’s work with Hawkwind. ‘Space Junk’ is grinding bass, warped guitar, percussion, ‘legacy of space travel … The future is now hi-tech trash … ‘ sounding like an angry Phil Daniels on Parklife.
‘Dark Matter’ features melancholic piano set to vocoded, robotic lyrics and the beep of a satellite/ship, voices from distant places: heaven/hell/memory? The eight-minute ‘In The Graveyard’ has Robb watching his father leave this mortal coil ‘… ashes to ashes … wind blows high, wind blows low, it doesn’t matter when you’re in the graveyard’ The elements can’t affect you anymore, you are dust to dust in the ether. The bass-driven coda is the sound of disintegration, the erosion of one existence before the eyes, passing from one form to another, physical to memorial.
The Arabic inflected ‘Magic Eye (to see the Sky) is an ode to the telescope, the portal to another realm, the conduit of hope and promise, the means to which we try to understand the meaning of life. The song is a deft nod to the advancements made in the regions aeons before the secret societies of Rome and Britain claimed credit (again).
The dubby and string (theory?)-driven ‘5776 (The Breathing Song)’ is a transcendental rumination on time, its passing and its constructive, constrictive and restrictive binding, there is no yesterday or tomorrow only ‘now’.
Despite the title this is a far from morose album, albeit anger is rife along with sadness and impotence. An eclectic brew of styles (Killing Joke’s anti-structural rage, Hawkwind’s transcendental odes) comprise this outstanding return from the band. Dark Matter/Dark Energy could be a companion piece to The Pop Group’s new album proving once more that the oldies are the goodies.