The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Monday, July 21, 2003

We have a right, not just to feel angry, but to be angry. There is, for instance, no point whatsoever in applying the creed of Thumperism to our leaders, or to the BBC, or to the Ministry of Defence, or indeed to the press: in today’s Guardian we have plentiful line-toeing from Polly “my husband works for the BBC” Toynbee – truly a woman with genuine, heartfelt sympathy for the low-paid servile underclasses, at least until she consults her accountant – and Rod “I’m A Punk, Me” Liddle, who proves that despite all the cosmetic snarling, He’s A Company Man To The Bitter End (that fish-eye can’t be so easily cast off, can it?). The usual necrophilia, and everyone is fighting for the best remains to cart off as a moral trophy.

In the meantime a man is dead by his own hand (only after it has been pressed down so hard by so many other hands) and the atrophy of life continues whereby “political columnists” earn £5000 per week by making readers annoyed, while doctors, nurses, teachers and firefighters are loved and adored, that is until they start to make treacherous Commie requests to earn enough money from their work to be able to give their families three square meals a day and pay their rent.

I search around for explosive, angry music made now, and what do I find? The Thrills pretending it’s 1968. The Darkness pretending it’s 1973. Super Furry Animals trundling further down their quirky road to nowhere. Asian Dub Foundation – I wish I could love you but I cannot.

So it’s back to 1994 I am forced to go, back to Seize The Time, the first and greatest album by Fun’Da’Mental – the necessary flipside to the nirvana of Transglobal Underground (most of whom were involved in this record), how to make the “Dream Of 100 Nations” a reality. It remains one of the most caustic and furious articulations of rage ever captured on a British record. Did it sell? Like most of what we perhaps should have had as “Britpop,” it of course didn’t. Boring. Preaching. Stop spoiling our fun. And, as is usually the case with those silly enough to take the media at their word, far more venom regarding the issues of “reverse racism,” “Crow Jim,” etc., was spat out in the whiter-than-white pages of Melody Maker and Select than any serious consideration of what Fun’Da’Mental were actually saying.

Seize The Time certainly is no facile polemic of a record, though polemic it undoubtedly is. Immediately from its beginning – a recording of an answering machine death threat from a member of C18 – we are thrust into a violent percussive, Bollywood-sampling whirlpool of anger. These are the same elements of Transglobal Underground amplified into fury. As pop, as punk even (or especially), it is so monstrously and monumentally assertive and assured in its drive that it’s perhaps little wonder that people turned away from it and towards more easily digestible homilies (“Live Forever”). The propulsion continues into the title track, a reworking of their 1993 single “Wrath Of The Blackman,” still one of the greatest and most terrifying singles of its decade – the righteous fury of Malcolm X set against a melodica being thrown out of the 98th floor of a skyscraper, climaxing in ominously quiet orchestrals (is that the theme from Inspector Morse we hear sampled at the end? “Speak the truth”…).

As the record progresses through the even more virulent likes of “President Propaganda” and “No More Fear” we realise that this is the exact Brit counterpart to Public Enemy’s Fear Of A Black Planet. The screaming of MC Mushtaq, Hot Dog and Propa-Gandhi is astutely balanced by the unrelenting polytonal, polyrhythmic ascensions of Aki Nawaz and Impi-D. By the time “No More Fear” collapses in a kaleidoscope of “Stop the white propaganda!” and London Tonight cut-ups of Stephen Lawrence’s murder (remember, less than a year ago at the time of this record’s release), one feels as though the world is about to collapse. “Dollars Or Sense” quietens the onslaught a little with its examination of religion as corrupted capitalism.

And then we come to the moral centre of the album – “Mother India” featuring the voice (both as singer and narrator) of the great Natacha Atlas. A quiet but deeply passionate declamation of the importance of women – up to and including Leila Khaled – in the history, present and future of the struggle. The restful eye of the violent storm; everything else on Seize The Time leads up to and away from, and is justified by, this piece of music.

Back to rage thereafter. Where’s the cliché about “this could have been recorded last week”? “Mr Bubbleman” opens with the voice of Alan Clark talking about the sale of arms to Iraq – the act which, in its own long way, led to what happened in Harrowdown Hill on Thursday – and shamelessly confirming his preference for animals over humanity. The ensuing rant is brilliantly unfocused and splenetic, like LeRoi Jones filleted through Jimmy Pursey. The story goes, however, that upon receipt of a copy of the album, the late, lamented Mr Clark sent Nation Records a complimentary thank-you letter, saying that he thought the track very good indeed…

The onslaught then resumes with the sonic bloodbaths of “English Breakfast” and “Bullet Solution?” – but note the question mark at the end of the latter title. There is now doubt, the recognition that extremist suppression does not necessarily require an extremist response – and in the track “Fatherland,” which is punctuated by the voice of a dim Brummie (“This is the greatest country in the world, but it’s being polluted…because they bring their ways, but they don’t want our ways”), the tenor is one of sadness rather than anger at their ignorance. There is a plea for education, from which understanding can only blossom – and then, finally, some catharsis, some celebration, as “New World Order” and especially “White Gold Burger” appropriate the good humour of TGU and show us exactly what we could have if we so chose. But note the sinisterly confident drive of the concluding and brilliant “Mera Mezab” – the anger is still there, the blood still ready to flow if you insist on suffocating us. Fuck you if you want to fuck us.

A record which would not have caused the sensation it deserved, I feel, even if it had been released in 1981 or 2003. Now we seem to prefer the good-time, keep them under control template of Dishonest Albarn’s sanctifying of world music. Consider the new record by Terry Hall and the aforementioned Mushtaq. Extremely entertaining, undoubtedly furious beneath its layers of veneer – but these layers are the problem; they neutralise the anger, lead it into the safe Jools Holland battery farm of compromise, whereas anger is now what is required. I suspect, however, that any anger which does surface from the State We’re Currently In will be directed towards ensuring that suppression becomes greater. So IDS will sneak into Downing Street, we will continue to pretend that Coldplay and Colder are the future of anything, and warnings like Seize The Time will continue to languish in bargain basements and charity shops the country over. Rescue it.

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