Mark Stewart

Mark Stewart

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Mark Stewart Review

by Wilson Neate

Although Mark Stewart's left-wing leanings tend to be discussed only in the context of his sloganeering lyrics, the ex-Pop Group vocalist has emphasized that music itself can also be politically radical. When critics grumbled that this album lacked the political edge of Stewart's previous recordings, they were perhaps focusing on the more introspective dimensions of its lyrical content and glossing over tracks that were as sonically confrontational and subversive as material on Learning to Cope with Cowardice and As the Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade. Stewart challenges listeners' expectations through open-ended experimentation, rejecting simple song-oriented formats. With producer Adrian Sherwood and Maffia members Keith LeBlanc, Skip McDonald, and Doug Wimbish, he continues to play havoc with conventional notions of structure on several tracks, assembling dark, fragmented collages cut up with scratches, heavy metal guitar flourishes, voices culled from the media, and blasts of electronic noise. A prime example is the nine-minute assault of "Anger Is Holy," which finds Stewart pasting together big go-go beats, a recurring sample from Billy Idol's "Flesh for Fantasy," and his signature distorted vocals -- as well as interrupting the proceedings with a random moment of complete silence. But there is a less difficult, more melodic side to this album. Considered by some to be the blueprint for trip-hop, "Stranger" grafts together a version of Satie's "Gymnopedie No. 1," West Side Story's "Somewhere," and Stewart's pained/painful crooning. More than this track, however, the most genuinely beautiful and affecting cut on the album is the bass-heavy reworking of Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian's "Forbidden Colours" (titled "Forbidden Colour"), which Stewart then deconstructs on the dub version that follows. "Fatal Attraction" moves in a more dance-oriented direction; with its snaking, Moroder-esque disco beat, this track points toward the heavyweight 'funk grooves Stewart would explore on 1990s Metatron.

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