It’s true: this 1980 gem deserved exhuming for the semi-deluxe treatment. Its six bonus tracks don’t further the Mothmen’s story, but they provide a bit more depth, and prove that the band was both dubwise and melodically adept when it wanted to be.
On the original album itself, the deliberate sabotage of melodiousness is rife; in Not Moving, the cranky instrumental sections volley tunefulness into the incinerator. Though the album has been marketed as being FFO Gang of Four, and perhaps may also appeal to Public Image Ltd-lovers, these bands, with their Poptones, made a few more concessions to melody, or at least to the ability to be played in clubs.
The Mothmen’s lyrics are more fragmented, and their music exists to a much greater extent on purely aesthetic/tonal grounds.
The first song, for instance – Afghan Farmer Driving Cattle – has no words at all. Whether the band thought of the title and created music to match, or jammed and fitted a title retrospectively, it’s evocative stuff: the rhythm section rattles along (Bob Harding’s bass sounds great on the new remaster), and the song ends up greater than the sum of its parts.
The animal theme continues with the frenetic, displaced existentialism of Animal Animaux, which happily brings to mind Talking Heads circa ’79, and by the time Tardis (and Side 1) rumbles to a close, we’ve been transported from robotised rurality to industrial disrepair.
It’s a shame that Side 2 is devoted exclusively to musical disrepair. The whole side is a twenty-minute insult, which, given its title (Mothman), might be read as a sort of manifesto – the result of a misplaced egoism/self-hatred/both that torpedoes the listener’s presumably fairly generous patience.
It’s not just boring, it’s BORING. Worse, it’s as objectionable on conceptual grounds as it is on musical ones. It’s overblown, tedious, portentous. It’s soporific, mind-numbing, pretentious. One might prefer having actual moths feeding on one’s flesh for 20 minutes than endure this in its entirety.
This odious ode to sonic self-harm is possibly the reason the album was released only after the invention of digital playlists and the ‘Skip’ button. An unbefitting end to an otherwise interesting album.
But the re-release, courtesy of ON-U Sound, doesn’t end on a low, so neither will I. The first bonus track, Change Direction, with its dissonant breakdown halfway through, is a rousing call to consciousness, and might have been a single. The surf-rock bass and cod-superhero calls of “Vegetable Man, where are you?” make Vegetable Man sound like the Who of A Quick One or Sell Out, while Does It Matter Irene? comes on like Joy Division on a North African music binge.
The otherworldly sonics continue on the wonderfully titled Return of the Mozabites, and Paintings of a Cave displays the Mothmen’s uncanny ability to conjure up in song an atmosphere that fits the song’s title perfectly. We end on a brief dub version of the album’s opening track, and by now, the aural atrocity of the second side is forgiven.