The Membranes - What Nature Gives...Nature Takes Away - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Membranes - What Nature Gives...Nature Takes Away

by Andy Brown Rating:9 Release Date:2019-06-07
The Membranes - What Nature Gives...Nature Takes Away
The Membranes - What Nature Gives...Nature Takes Away

In 2015 Blackpool’s post-punk misfits The Membranes released their first album in 25 years. Dark Matter/ Dark Energy has undoubtedly entered into the pantheon of great comeback albums; an existential howl into the vastness of space accompanied by bludgeoning, widescreen post-punk. Staggering, truly impressive and delightfully unexpected; how do you follow an album like that?

How about a double-album about nature, sex and death? How about a choir? How about guest appearances by folk legend Shirley Collins, naturalist and Springwatch presenter Chris Packham, Theatre of Hate and Burning Spear vocalist Kirk Brandon and the original punk-style icon Pamela Rooke aka Jordan? What Nature Gives…Nature Takes Away gives us all this and, as the saying goes, much, much more.

The British & Irish Modern Music Institute choir (BIMM) make their presence felt from the opening moments. ‘Strange Perfume’ bursts into life as they ramp up the cinematic, nigh-on apocalyptic mood. What’s really impressive is just how naturally the band have absorbed a 20-piece choir into their sound. John Robb’s distinctive bass ploughing its way through the rich, near-operatic drama.

The title-track, once again, takes things to the next level. Unashamedly epic guitars, string arrangements and Robb’s reliably heavy bass creating seismic sonic spells as an ominous, female voice repeats the mantra, “what nature gives/ nature takes away”. This is the sound of a band in their absolute prime.

The versatile guitar work of Peter Byrchmore and Nick Brown finds them equally comfortable with no-wave noise and post-punk sprawl. Rob Haynes heavy and adaptable drumming and the driving bass of frontman John Robb keep the sound tight and muscular. They sound like they’re having a great time too, hitting new and exciting highs with a band that Robb started over 41 years ago.

One thing's for sure, it’s a wild ride from beginning-to-end. ‘A Murder of Crows’ finds the band in a manic JSBX-meets-The Birthday Party kind of mood while ‘The Ghosts of Winter Stalk This Land’ oozes skittering, ominous and atmospheric dub. There’s plenty of variety to enjoy here and a focus that pulls you in for the duration. A rarity, I think you’ll agree, on a double-album.

‘The 21st Century is Killing Me’ might just be the most singularly stunning piece here, I can almost feel my feet leave the floor as the choir come in with a simple but essential instruction, “breathe in/ breathe out”. The music blooms into an epic, Mogwai-worthy post-rock prayer and my jaw hits the floor.

Shirley Collins brings further class to the brooding, experimental ‘A Murmuration of Starlings on Blackpool Pier’ while Jordan’s spoken-word vocals are cut up and artfully scattered throughout the exhilarating post-punk weirdness of ‘Demon Seed/ Demon Flower’.

Kirk Brandon whispers in our ears on the powerful psych-rock mysticism of ‘The Magical and Mysterious Properties of Flowers’ but it’s the former presenter of The Really Wild Show that provides the album with something of a philosophical centrepiece. ‘Winter (The Beauty and Violence of Nature)’ finds Chris Packham providing a passionate description of the brutality and unquestionable beauty of nature.

“Humanities fundamentally greatest mistake is that it denies its irrefutable connection to the natural world” begins Packham “you see we’re not above it or separate from it/ we are part of it”. Honestly, I considered making the transcript for this song the entire review. You really have to hear it. And listen closely. “The only thing we do differently” states Packham “is that we kill for no reason/ no other species on Earth does that/ no other animals waste life”.

The messages and imagery scattered throughout the album feel particularly pertinent to the modern world; a world of escalating climate change, Extinction Rebellion and indifferent world leaders. What Nature Gives…Nature Takes Away is a true post-punk epic and an energising soundtrack for our perpetually troubled times. An album to play as you watch the world slide back into the sea and dance in the debris.

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