BY JASON GROSS
If Ray Davies and Muddy Waters can cannibalize their own catalogs, then why not these post-punk pioneers, who’ve gladly done it before anyway? Based on ‘ideas from 1979/1980… sketches for live performances,’ this semi-new batch of songs navigates between their ‘80s reunion-era, new-age (not new wave) existential dread and the ramalama rush of their early work and some of the best of their recent 2000s reunion era material.
Now a quartet again with the addition of guitarist Matt Sims, the vocals get traded off as usual between Colin Newman’s yelps and calm warble and Graham Lewis’ ghostly croon. Since the original material came from a transitional period for them (going from art-punks to full blown art-rockers), the end result is doubly schizo, sometimes working in spite of itself—as heard on “Adore The Island,” which goes back and forth between airy calm and revved up rock in alternately sections, as if the group can’t decisively make up its mind about its direction after the departure of original guitarist/conceptualist Bruce Gilbert. Some of their ‘80s-style material also works in a pretty way (“Re-invent Your Second Wheel,” “BW Silence,” “Time Lock Fog”), but not so that you’re convinced that their collective hearts are in it.
Even some of the more up-tempo material (Stealth of a Stork”) sounds kind of like retreads of Pink Flag or 2003’s Send, which is good for their old fans in a way but better served by the original source material. Only towards the end (the German shout-a-long “Eels Sang,” the maddening churning “Attractive Space,” the mildly stomping “As We Go”) do they sound comfortable in their new/old skin as the enigmatic rockers that they are. Hopefully this uncertainty means that their next phase is on the way.
DOWNLOAD: “Eels Sang,” “Love Bends”