A Lick of the Old Cassette Box

Also known as “PWEI96” or “The Lost Album”, this album was originally recorded in 1995 and 1996, but the band split before it was finished and it wasn’t released until September 2013 as CD2 of the expanded version of Dos Dedos Mis Amigos. Clint Mansell and Adam Mole came up with the album’s final track order and Clint made a few tweaks to a few of the tracks to make them presentable for release.

Graham Crabb had departed by the time the tracks were laid down and Kerry ‘The Buzzard’ Hammond, a great guitarist who had already worked on many PWEI tracks, was recruited into the team. He added a great vitality to the music with dense heavy guitar riffs to accompany the complex percussion which seems to be a natural progression of style from Dos Dedos Mis Amigos.

I initially disliked the album and have held back a week or so since buying it to give it a proper write-up. The most notable thing for me was that Clint’s vocals at times seem strained and a little lost without Crabbie. As you would expect from a long-abandoned project retrieved from the annals of time, most of the tracks seem unfinished and there’s no clear indication of potential singles, perhaps with the exception of the amazingly sweary and infinitely catchy “Talent Plus Attitude Equals Dollars” which would have been career suicide if they had lasted long enough.

Having listened to it in the car for a good couple of weeks now I am happy to report that it has grown on me immensely, I realise that it’s Clint’s vocals I prefer, and I feel it’s a shame that it wasn’t given a proper good polish and released on its own perhaps with some of the other unreleased demos as extra tracks.

Anyway on with talking about the tracks on this album…

“No Contest” seems like something that could happily have sat on the end of Dos Dedos Mis Amigos instead of the weak mix of “Babylon”; the drumming, chugging bass and harsh guitar licks and electronic noises wouldn’t have been out-of-place on a NIN album of the same period. It’s a shame they ran out lyrics and resorted to swearing repeated at the end of the track, but that kind of gets you ready for track nine.

“Hangman” has a grungy industrial sound with a more distorted vocal style than the previous track and conjures a dark sci-fi vibe with the only distortion free lyric seeming to refer to The Terminator films ‘they will never hear your screams above the noise of the machines’. The continuous high note alarm-like noise in the background adds to the uneasiness and tension in the track and to be honest it’s somewhat of a relief when it’s over.

“Dehydration” for me is probably one of the weakest tracks on the album despite sounding musically a lot like The Prodigy (perhaps because of the crunchy beats and the background ‘echoing milk bottle’ percussion). It’s sparse lyrics are weak and a little too repetitive even for PWEI.

“Out of Darkness… Cometh Light” is quite a laid back percussion based number and reminds me a lot of “X, Y and Zee” without quite so much cheese. The chorus is persuasive and the lyrics are well written. The tune has a lot of static, less guitar than a lot of tracks from this era and the electronic snickers, crackles and beeps are the stars along with a nice melodic slow-paced bass line. If I was to be picky it might have benefited from a choice film dialogue sample somewhere along the way.

“The Demon” is pretty much an instrumental and contains the film sample missing from the previous track and when the beat kicks in, you are immediately taken back to the sonic landscape of Dos Dedos Mis Amigos – very reminiscent of Menofearthereaper with its low almost Art of Noise vocal sample beats. This track seems like a fully fledged and polished track rather than a cobbled together mix from demos rescued from a filing cabinet and has an inexorable quality to it that you just can’t help but groove along to.

“100% is **it” seems a bit like “Fatman” from the previous album with some proper big guitar riffs and no obvious dialogue samples. There’s some odd Arabic horn loops in the tune which again remind me a little of The Prodigy. Again I thought the track was a little too chorus heavy and could have benefited from more lyrics.

“I-800-OUTSIDER” has some odd reversed vocal loops, monk-like chants and breathing in the background and in places (where the use of samples saying ‘listen’ and ‘is anybody out there’ are obvious) seems like a bit of throwback to This Is the Day…This Is the Hour…This Is This! This is another complex layered largely electronic instrumental track which perhaps indicated Clint’s calling as a soundtrack artist.

“I Am The One” has a religious basis to the lyrics and quite a 70s rock to the guitars. Again there is a lot of multi-layered vocal loops along with multiple big beats and an almost continual wall of guitar riffs. This is the track that made me sit up and listen when I first heard the change of tempo in the middle of the track and then a descent into a cacophony of samples coupled with an oddly electronic dripping noise sounding like a mixture of holy water and crackling flame.

“Talent Plus Attitude Equals Dollars” is the catchiest and most easily accessible track on the album and is big beat before big beat was around with old skool PWEI sounds. Obviously slightly lacking in lyrics, you can’t argue with the intent – ‘fuck me, fuck you… fuck you,’ being the main lyric coupled with a film dialogue sample of Mr Pink from Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

“Point Blank:Zero Return” is a high tempo track with pretty disappointing vocals and not much in the way of musical creativity beyond the electronic blips and clever use of stereo in places. For me this is one of the weakest tracks on the album.

“Big Green Head” has an obvious connection to The Incredible Hulk with its lyrical reprise of ‘you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’. The track is down there with “Point Blank:Zero Return” in terms of the value I place in repeat listening and it seems unfinished to me.

“I’m Gonna Get You Baby” seems to reprise “No Contest” and go all the way back to the Grebo sound of Box Frenzy for its essence. If this had appeared on the debut album then it would have undoubtedly have been the stand out track and as such it is testament to the development of the band that it’s a bit disappointing to hear it as the last track on this album. There’s a This Is the Day…This Is the Hour…This Is This! vibe to the track as well and when the cello sounds kick in with a minute to go it feels like a lament to overlooked opportunities and bad timing for a band that never really made it big despite their obvious talent and efforts to do so.

I have recently also bought a copy of the very recent New Noise Designed By a Sadist, but given that this was a digital copy and that the “New PWEI” who recorded the album isn’t really the band I know and love (Crabbie being the only original member) I’m not going to review it as part of my CD Marathon. Maybe some other time my friends.