Mark Stewart / Mark Stewart and the Maffia

Learning to Cope with Cowardice/The Lost Tapes

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Teaming up with Adrian Sherwood and his On-U Sound stable after appearing on the first New Age Steppers album, former Pop Group frontman Mark Stewart made one of his most vital statements with 1983's explosive Learning to Cope with Cowardice. Billed as Mark Stewart + Maffia, with backup from members of African Head Charge and other On-U acts, this is an album that completely rips up the rule book, taking the innovative mixing techniques of dub reggae and early hip-hop to their breaking point. While there's a few relatively calmer moments, particularly the ones which draw heaviest on reggae traditions, much of the album is a non-stop montage of crashes, interruptions, slippery tape reels, and jarring dynamic shifts. Instead of being a consistent, monotonous din like some of the more conventional punk bands, this is alarming, forceful music which gives the listener no choice but to pay attention. The lyrics are every bit as radical as the production, with Stewart's paranoid howling examining the rise of conservativism in the United Kingdom following the election of Margaret Thatcher -- a topic entirely relevant several decades later, during the Brexit era. While chaotic and violent, Stewart's messages are also highly empowering, boldly encouraging the audience to stand up, resist, and fight the powers that be. The album's original sequence concludes with a startling reconstruction of William Blake's "Jerusalem," often regarded as England's unofficial national anthem.

In 2019, Learning was reissued along with a second disc of early versions, dubs, and otherwise unheard material from the album's sessions. The Lost Tapes manage to go even further off the rails with relentless experimentation. If the original album's barrage of adrenaline had you set on edge and fiending for more, this is exactly what you need. The disc's 30-second "Intro" is an all-too-brief noise collage which anticipates the breakcore and digital hardcore movements. "Conspiracy," Stewart and Sherwood's first collaboration, is sax-driven dub disco which provides a clear bridge between the Pop Group and the Maffia. The set saves all the absolute dub wreckage for its final run of tracks. "Liberty Dub" features Mad Professor-like filtering and crunchy distortion, and "To Have a Vision" has a mind-altering breakdown and total restart in the middle. "High Ideals & Crazy Dub" pushes the entire mix in the red, with air raid sirens wailing against blown-out bass. "The Weight" dials the distortion down just a little bit, but its sound design is a bit more intricate, and even more hallucinatory. More than just a reel of outtakes, The Lost Tapes is at least as revolutionary as Stewart's groundbreaking first album, and just as essential.

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