POP WILL EAT ITSELF PWEI Product 86/94 The Pop Will Eat Itself Anthology (Castle Music/Sanctuary)

Stalwarts of the late 80s/early 90s Stourbridge scene alongside The Wonder Stuff and Ned's Atomic Dustbin, this double CD is the first anthology to span Pop Will Eat Itself's entire career, including their work for the Desperate, Chapter 22, RCA and Infectious labels. The earliest selections are unsurprisingly Wonderstuffy, the work of an indie guitar band with a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for bad jokes (titles include "There's A Psychopath In My Soup" and "The Black Country Chainsaw Massacre"), casual sexism (how come we tolerate, if not accept, n-thousand gansta rapper's liberal use of the word 'bitch' and yet it still sounds shocking on a 15 year old recording by a jangly white boy band from the black country?), sub-two minute tunes and an occasional, less-incongruous-than-you-might-imagine leaf through the Hawkwind back catalogue. Proceedings surprisingly shape up sharply with their acquisition of a sampler and a cover of Sigue Sigue Sputnik's still-rancid "Love Missile F1-11": like the moment when the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu samples spark up during "Let's Get Ugly" it's the sound of post-modern crash collage eating itself. "There Is No Love Between Us Anymore" shows how simple yet devastatingly effective the PWEI formula can be when it works, with Nat 'King' Cole and The Righteous Brothers bookending the sound of a bleary, beery midlander going all karaoke with a beatbox. Of course, the Pop Will Eat Itself template offered nothing that hadn't already been executed with far greater wit and panache by The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, but PWEI had the clever idea of dumbing it down sufficiently for mass consumption, and, unlike The JAMMS, they started to have hits.

I can't recall ever listening to a Pop Will Eat Itself album in its entirety before now, yet much of this anthology is naggingly familiar, probably as a result of the iron grip the band had over the quaint old pre-"Nevermind" indie scene. They may have been a little light on tunes, but PWEI would never short-change on the choruses, and the uncomplicated likes of "Def.Con.One" ("Gimme Big Mac fries to go!") and "Can U Dig It?" ("Riffs yeah! Can you dig it?") must have soundtracked a million big t-shirted, cider-soaked student union discos. The apotheosis of PWEIdom, in my humble opinion, "Touched By The Hand Of Cicciolina", is happily included here: a big, Balearic anthem to an Italian porn star-turned-MP, it crystallised the entire Pop Will Eat Itself ethos perfectly, sample-happy culture-sucking "Loaded" lads years before the magazine would conspire to mint the term.

And, for a brief time in the early 90s, PWEI plateaud, churning out one gloriously dumb sort-of classic after another: the tongue-in-cheek boasting and toasting of "Dance Of The Mad Bastards", "X Y & Zee"'s shrink-wrapped psychedelia and their light-fingering of Model 500's "The Race" on "92 Degrees". But soon the colour and humour began to seep away, leaving little but the joyless, grumpy rant-metal of "RSVP" and "Ich Bin Ein Auslander".

As a one-stop PWEI package Castle's latest anthology is as comprehensive as you could want. NME scribe Andrew Collins provides booklet notes, there's a slipcase and a small poster included in the bundle of loot. But the packaging is rather drab considering the band have one of their single sleeves on permanent exhibition at the V & A, and surely something could be found to fill the 45 minutes of blank space that trails these discs. Nevertheless, "PWEI Product 86/94" is an enjoyable, nostalgic wallow from a band whose like we couldn't, or shouldn't, see again.

POP WILL EAT ITSELF Now For A Feast (Sanctuary/Castle Music)

Originally released in 1988, "Now For A Feast" was a mop-up operation that documented Pop Will Eat Itself's activity prior to their 1987 debut long player "Box Frenzy". It includes the EPs (and what a quaint, indie concept the EP seems now) "Poppies Say GRRR!" and "Poppiecock" and the singles "Sweet Sweet Pie" and "Love Missile F1-11" in their entirety, as well as, in this expanded form, all of the "Beaver Patrol" and "There Is No Love Between Us Anymore" singles. The whole weighs in at a bumper 23 tracks, rattled through in a shade over 50 minutes.

During these formative years for the Stourbridge Sound, the Pop Will Eat Itself weapon of choice was a kind of Buzzcocks guitar buzz coupled with the kind of brevity displayed by early Hsker D or Minutemen, lacerated with a beery sense of humour, the lad mag prototype years before the publishing industry caught up with it (or years before the lads learned to read, perhaps). And it's actually quite good - funny, self-deprecating (hopefully), high on nagging melody, and the band's shambolic performances only add to the music's charm, such as it is. Of course, the casual sexism and megaphone misogyny of "Sick Little Girl" and "Beaver Patrol" hasn't worn particularly well, but the Poppies aren't alone in such failings, the Beastie Boys and even Public Enemy being similarly entrapped by their own back catalogues.

What makes "Now For A Feast" fascinating for me is the opportunity it offers to play "Spot The Influence", made even easier by the way PWEI openly flaunt their bootsale thievery. "I'm Sniffin With Yoo Hoo" satirises The Velvet Underground's then recently released "I'm Sticking With You", whilst "Candyiosis" is a smirksome observation on the preponderance of Candys creeping into popular music at the time. "I wish I could be young/I wish I was Neil Young again" growls Clint (was he ever?) on "Oh Grebo I Think I Love You", before "The Devil Inside" appropriates "Pretty Vacant"'s clarion call (and we all know what Neil Young made of the Sex Pistols!) . Great chunks of The Teardrop Explodes' "When I Dream" are also liberally splattered over "Like An Angel".

As the compilation progresses the band shrug off that shambolic C86 guitar jangle in favour of a shambolic approximation of hip-hop - kind of like a Black Country cousin to Public Enemy's self-styled "music's worst nightmare". A cover of Sigue Sigue Sputnik's still warm "Love Missile F1-11" shows the fractured beginnings of the PWEI most fans would recognise, its opening image of "US bombs cruising overhead" having lost none of its potency during the last 15 years. Their Fisher Price version of Hawkwind's "Orgone Accumulator" is also worth a snigger, but "There Is No Love Between Us" aims for a slightly higher artistic agenda, cutting up Nat 'King' Cole, The Righteous Brothers, lurching guitars and Clint's repeated bellowing of the title. Inexplicably great. "Picnic In The Sky" also seems to be part of some grander design, a Depeche Mode messiah complex rendered on charity shop keyboards. Shuddering towards the chronology's close, "Def Con One" totes a new, gleaming relative sophistication, wearing its hookline ("Big Mac, fries to go") proudly amidst Osmonds and Stooges samples.

Unappetising as it might sound, there's more to "Now For A Feast" than might initially be apparent to the outraged ear. As a compact summation of their first phase it has some obvious merit - assuming there's anybody left in the universe interested in early PWEI who doesn't possess these tunes several times over already. Certainly, the fact that this reissue - crammed with useful booklet notes, as is to be expected from Castle - shares half-a-dozen tunes with the simultaneously reissued "Box Frenzy" (watch this space for a review!) hints that there may not be.

POP WILL EAT ITSELF Box Frenzy (Sanctuary/Castle Music)

boxfrenzy.jpg (25904 bytes)Pop Will Eat Itself's debut album proper, 1987's "Box Frenzy", was the fully malformed expression of where the singles that immediately preceded it were leading, the first flexings of the grebo subculture and a crude, rhymin' and stealin' approximation of the contemporary American hip hop scene. Kicking off with Mark Ellen in conversation with Johnny Morris, opener "Grubo Guru" was the first of too many surreal juxtapositions, constructed stone by stone from surreal dialogue samples, bellowed vocals and crude beatbox programming. Maybe the less said about "Beaver Patrol" the better, but "Let's Get Ugly" is the sound of the underground hauling itself unsteadily out of the primeval ooze, and pop does indeed almost eat itself when they sample fellow copyright liberators The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu.

"Evelyn" is a tragicomic waltz, whilst, as Andrew Collins' perceptive booklet notes point out, "There Is No Love Between Us Anymore" is "as moving as anything Phil Collins ever wrote to an ex-wife". "She's Surreal" is notable, for me at least, for its croaky samples of T.Rex's "Jewel"; it's followed by "Intergalactic Love Mission", a melange of orgasmic grunting, film dialogue samples and synthetic instrumentation, a jumble sale version of what the mighty Colourbox were up to five years earlier. On "Love Missile F1-11" Eddie Cochran meets Sigue Sigue Sputnik and, ever so briefly, the whole sounds like the post-Rotten Pistols' version of "Something Else". As the scratched intro sample to "Hit The Hi-Tech Groove" announces, "This is house music", albeit done black country style. Adam And The Ants piledrive into Mel And Kim as the Poppies referee. "You don't need to have integrity/You don't need to have ability", they goad, a full on grebo credo/mantra. A later live version emphasises the point with its comically out of tune harmony vocals. Finally, "Razorblade Kisses" closes the original album with a brief "Camberwick Green" overload, years before creaky old children's television programmes became the stuff of cult worship.

There are extra tracks aplenty here, slightly diminished by the fact that three of them also appeared on Castle's expanded reissue of "Now For A Feast". Nevertheless, my tolerance levels for "Picnic In The Sky" and "Def Con One" have yet to reach saturation point, so I'll let it lie.

Over fifteen years after the fact, "Box Frenzy" surprises me by remaining good, dirty, cheap fun, its deliberately slapdash manner of execution only adding to its low-rent charm. Of course, of its type The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu's suppressed "1987 (What The Fuck's Going On?)" is a far superior artefact, but if you can live without its splenetic, outraged social, political and artistic commentary "Box Frenzy" is a perfectly adequate substitute.