August 24, 2020 Powerman 5000 – The Noble Rot (Album Review)
If ever there is one band who has defied nearly all convention from their very first day, that would be Powerman 5000 (abbreviated as PM5K). Tracing their history back to 1991, they were officially born when Vocalist Spider One dropped out of art school to rendezvous with the local Rock-n-Roll scene in Boston. Success in New England paved the way for a deal with DreamWorks Records, who released the band’s debut, Mega!! Kung Fu Radio—actually a remastering of the independently released The Blood-Splat Rating System—in 1996. Therefore, one might consider the band’s actual major label debut to be 1999’s Tonight the Stars Revolt!, the LP that would catapult their name onto the musical map.
Despite a plethora of lineup changes that have left Spider as the last original man standing, eight additional records have followed over the past 21 years, including 2001’s Anyone for Doomsday?, 2006’s Destroy What You Enjoy, and 2017’s New Wave. But nothing can keep a good band down! Still going strong after nearly three decades, Powerman 5000 is set to release The Noble Rot on Friday, August 28, 2020 via Cleopatra Records.
For their 10th studio album, the altogether kooky quintet—Spider, Guitarists Ty Oliver and Taylor Haycraft, Bassist Murv3, and Drummer DJ Rattan—continue their Industrial-rooted mayhem. On the 10-track The Noble Rot, they dive right into sonic adventures that allow them to rendezvous with bloody cinematic spaces, lusty gothic lips, The Go-Go’s, and their own past. All of this while offering commentary on the society that spins mindlessly around us all as we try to delude ourselves with ignorant fantasy.
The groove sets in immediately on “Cannibal Killers That Kill Everyone,” where the optimism of youth disappears quickly amid a cannibalistic world. Like much of Powerman 5000’s material throughout the years, Spider balances intelligent lyrics with social commentary inside a wrapper that is dipped in Horror references and topped off with his easily recognizable vocals. In this specific instance, it all amounts to a track that is both catchy and fun on its surface, but actually a bleak commentary on our dog eat dog world—because the scariest Horror flick is reality.
This theme continues into “Brave New World,” and no, this is not the Aldous Huxley novel that you were tormented with in high school. Here, bold percussion introduces a highly experimental track that amalgamates ‘80s influences, Hip-Hop cadences, and electronics into a track that is PM5K dancing with The Prodigy and Tricky. While the song may initially feel a little too weird, trust us, it’s superbly catchy and apt to become a fan favorite.
Next up, the sultry goth spell begins with “Play God or Play Dead,” paving the way for the killer Darkwave tease of “Black Lipstick”—a must listen for fans of Siouxsie Sioux, Depeche Mode, and Peter Murphy. Riding this high, they allow the beat to lure them into “Special Effects,” moviemaking for liars. “Real life is boring because it’s real,” advises Spider as he gently condemns Photoshop, IG filters, and the many fantasies that we build to avoid the harshness of reality. Then the band sidesteps into the futuristic electronics that undulate throughout the straightforward “Let The Insects Rule,” before they thematically relate back to “Special Effects” with the illusions (not allusions) of “Movie Blood.”
Now they take the time to rewind back to a better decade and offer us “Strange People Doing Strange Things,” a song worthy of a starring role in a 1980s John Hughes teen Sci-Fi flick—but not 1985’s Weird Science. The vibe here is thick with retro-liciousness, which is apropos of a song that comes before a cover of The Go-Go’s. Erasing the bubblegum girl power of “We Got the Beat,” Powerman 5000 inject undulating electronics, killer synths, and a sultry grit into the 1982 hit single to make it all their own.
As the album winds to a close, they choose to offer up a mellow palette cleanser, “VHS,” which reads like an interlude that bridges the gap between the belly of the beast and its bonus track, a re-recording of “When Worlds Collide.” Certainly it would be nearly impossible to recapture the raw magic of the 1999 original, but this re-recording makes an effort to wallop its initial incarnation with the power of 21 years of sonic evolution. It’s a fun addition, and one that beautifully displays the fact that Spider’s voice hasn’t changed much at all over the past two decades. (How?)
Which is what makes The Noble Rot worth getting excited for: this is a band who still have all of their original mojo after all these years! Throughout the LP, Powerman 5000 continue to dish up obvious homages to Horror and Sci-Fi, but they never reach the point of cheap schtick. Filmic influences are merely an element that they obviously love, one that turns up in their material from time to time, along with aware social commentary. And despite, or perhaps because of, this misanthropic commentary on the bleak nature of our world, Powerman 5000 shines like black diamonds on The Noble Rot. For this, Cryptic Rock gives the album 5 of 5 stars.