Mark Stewart

As the Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade

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For this album, Mark Stewart and producer Adrian Sherwood assembled the definitive Maffia lineup with the imported talents of drummer Keith LeBlanc, bassist Doug Wimbish, and guitarist Skip McDonald -- best known at that point for their work with the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash. Opening with a robotic voice informing listeners they are about to be programmed to take their place in society, this is no rapper's delight but another glimpse into Stewart's shadowy world of political and sonic dissidence. LeBlanc, McDonald, and Wimbish contribute to a fearsome collision of industrial noise, abrasive electronics, and heavyweight funk that serves as a soundtrack to Stewart's lyrical obsessions: surveillance, the military-industrial complex, oppression, and economic inequity. Thanks to the hefty rhythm section, this album has a more overpowering, assaultive feel than its predecessor, as numbers like the ominous title track and "Passivecation Program" are built on punishing beats and mammoth basslines that batter the listener into submission. On top of that solid foundation, Stewart pastes together an unsettling collage of found sounds ranging from the call of a muezzin and media voices to barking dogs and simply barking mad noise. The air of confrontation is intensified as Stewart harasses listeners with distorted spoken and half-sung pronouncements and warnings. On the chaotic, disjointed "Bastards" -- harrowing enough with Stewart repeatedly shouting the title -- the menacing, sampled rasp of William Burroughs (who also appears fleetingly amid the manic hip-hop beats of "Pay It All Back") makes the proceedings all the more sinister. The album's standout is the dub-inflected "Hypnotised," which is infused with scratches, ocean-trawling bass, and shimmering melodic fragments. Uncompromising, challenging, and yet totally compelling, this album stands alongside Learning to Cope with Cowardice as one of Stewart's most innovative and important projects. [This CD reissue also contains the "Hypnotised"/"Dreamers"12"].

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