Jah Wobble – A Brief History of Now: Album Review

Bafflingly and bewilderingly brilliant. (No change there, then from Jah Wobble!)

Release Date: 4th August 2023

Label: Cleopatra Records

Format: CD / Vinyl / Digital

Does this man ever stop working? More or less fulltime on the road with his current iteration of Invaders of the Heart, with side projects aplenty squeezing into that already crammed tour schedule, yet still whipping out little nuggets of “something I prepared earlier”. Like this. You may recall last year’s Metal Box: Rebuilt In Dub, actually from the year before, his revisiting of the magisterial Public Image Limited outing of 1979, in which he, together with guitarist, Jon Klein (Siouxsie & the Banshees et al), reassembled a bevy of tracks from the original, casting it in a very idiosyncratically Wobble light, at best barely remisniscent of the original, but gloriously complementary. I guess it followed on a 2012 tour by Wobble and the late Keith Levene, the original PIL guitarist, Metal Box: Built In Dub, You can catch the drift. Klein and Wobble have now reconvened to carry on the adventure, with, this time, new material.

Recently, I commented on my sense of lukewarm for Wobble’s penchant for spoken word. I was wrong, and clearly hadn’t been concentrating enough. Last Exit, after a brief flourish of walking bass and slashed guitars, is all spoken verses, with brief choral choruses. And it is bloody marvellous, Klein and Wobble taking no prisoners as they slash and burn. A viscerally lively start, the narrative is as quirkily observant as attention deficit. (Great vid, too, for those inclined to check it out.) Wrong Side Of The Line continues the sense of dystopia, with skronky sax and treated vocals, synthetic swathes of strings/keyboard ramping up the unease, conjuring up some last century ghost of Bowie in the structure and melody. (And sax.) These are actually tunes, not variegated sounds, even if it ends with a brusque: “oi, stay switched off!

Subterranean bass introduces SOO 135, with, yes, Banshee-esque guitar, the thump of echoed drums probably Wobble’s own. An instrumental, there are sounds of alarms and sirens: the apocalypse is now. The sax tone here is 100% Nik Turner, which has me deliciously imagine a Wobble/Hawkwind collab, not least as modulators ring. A murky maelstrom that begs louder. I Am I Am I Am is a dubby construct, Klein’s guitar a sparse clip, Wobble near singing, words from the edge of the abyss. The near naked voice just about hangs on the skeletal backing, each uncertain of the responsibility to carry the eeriness onward. The bass is hypnotic, as it should be. Fashion World then has a near orthodox structure, the sprechgesang touching the parts Ian Dury might have gone with this material. Fizzing guitar keeps it real, the focus pure post rock, post punk, call it what you will. And you will find yourself singing the “Hello , Hello” refrain, I guarantee.

The title track has flute and organ laying down jazz hued levels of scaffolding, the lyric a further tale of americophobia, lapsing into spanish and vocal treatments that still fail to quite expunge a distant memory of West Side story. A better song than the vocal, this may stretch those who struggle with his vocal style, but, as I said earlier, concentrate more! Or skip to I Am The Fly, the spiky Wire anthem, which here gets a taste of angular 60’s psychedelia , Syd style. There is a lovely economical guitar solo, using as near few notes as you can get away with. Driving offers a neo-metal riff, for Wobble to intone a tale of road rage in genesis, parping sax back in the mix. Again, it is oddly compulsive. In the organ/sax middle eight, it is Can I am minded of, mixed, again, with early Pink Floyd.

This Is The Love features banjo. No, honestly, the outcome making for a bizarre Pogues/PIL meld, the closest reminder yet of Wobble’s Lydon associateship. Once that realisation hits, it is a fine song, in fact, one of the best here, the choral chants, “Liberation” and “Revolution“, more than a little uplifting. Master Of Time is little more than a damning indictment on new money and emperor’s clothes, over a loping beat and choppy guitar. Politician or colleague? Who knows? A bit of old school guitar riffery, over crashing drums gets the job done. 80 Beats Per Minute has a keening sax call over the bass and ragged guitar, the latter vying with some electronic sounds to clash most with the progression the bass provides. I don’t think it is 80 beats, either, but it feels another moody studio extrapolation. Klein takes the lead, briefly, ahead the end and a return to a more chaotic remit. Which leaves only the cheerful Socially Functioning Psychopath, which would be commercial, were it not for the the title. And maybe the autotuned opening. But once the bass and drums kick in, it is a prime piece of sub-prime pop that tips its hat, again, to Wobble’s old bandleader. In fact, the influences pile in all over, from 60’s pop to NY No Wave, the chanted vocals, of the title, as charming as any you’ll find in what used to be the charts.

An intriguing album, bewildering, even, as much for the catchy hooks that garb the distinctly uncommercial affectations of the post punk instrumental mélee. The saxophones are, I belatedly discover, from Warabe Takoji, and for the free-er form excursions, Terry Edwards, last seen with Tindersticks. Typically atypical Wobble fare; it could be nobody else, his mind and his bass each wild spirits, taking and finding an earlier direction to take once more, off-piste always. I like it.

Here’s Last Exit and that video:

Jah Wobble: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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