What a wrong, strange trip it’s been. In the grand British tradition of selling a band on self-hype and a look — with the music added on as an afterthought — Pop Will Eat Itself became the guiding lights of England’s “grebo” (slimy-looking lowlifes playing retrograde raunch) movement of 1986-’87, probably because nobody else wanted the dirty job. Hailing from Stourbridge (a city near Birmingham), PWEI made a career of hopping on musical bandwagons (so long as it doesn’t require dressing up or sounding like Duran Duran). What the Poppies lacked in originality, they more than compensated for it with good dirty fun.
The ten cuts (expanding a previous five-song EP of the same name) of hooliganism on Poppiecock owe more than a little to early Damned records (not to mention several pints of lager). Just draw a mental picture of longhairs in torn jeans thrashing away on guitars, playing songs with titles like “The Black Country Chainstore Massacreee,” “There’s a Psychopath in My Soup” and the seminal “Oh Grebo I Think I Love You” and you’ll have a fairly accurate synopsis.
The Covers EP is just that — four good, raunchy raveups of an interesting selection of tunes, highlighted by Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s “Love Missile F1-11” (vastly superior to both the original and the Poppies’ second take, on Box Frenzy) and Hawkwind’s “Orgone Accumulator.” Box Frenzy, the band’s first US release, goes for both of 1987’s top trends, hip-hop and sampling. This time around, the Poppies are basically a British answer to the Beastie Boys — their rapping is laughably awkward, but they do get the self-promotion part down just fine. The sampling is funny, too, with everyone from LL Cool J to Nat “King” Cole making unauthorized guest appearances. The approach on Poppiecock seems more up their alley, but Box Frenzy is still a good time.
The Poppies sound like a buzzy Buzzcocks wannabe on Now For a Feast!, which compiles Poppiecock, three covers and the “Sweet Sweet Pie” 45 for a solid pre- Frenzy recapitulation. (The cassette adds two for a fuller course.)
The Poppies’ mastery of hip-hop hooliganism reaches its apogee on the brilliant Flood-produced This Is the Day…This Is the Hour…This Is This!, an aurally exciting sonic collage informed by a pronounced affection for Alan Moore’s groundbreaking comic books and Blade Runner‘s sci-fi nihilism. The amazing single, “Can U Dig It?” (the Poppies’ answer to the Psychedelic Furs’ “We Love You,” itself a catalog of cool), can be found here, as can “Def. Con. One.,” which samples Siouxsie Sioux, the Beastie Boys and Rod Serling, ripping off both the Stooges and Lipps, Inc. in a seamless dadaist stew. Bright, vital and bitingly funny (check out the scratch-mix ode to a felonious James Brown), this record teems with invention.
Cure for Sanity is This Is the Day minus the jokes and marks the beginning of the artistic end, as subsequent Poppies albums became sonically dense, soulless adventures in irrelevancy — dance music that became increasingly difficult to dance to. Not content with being the Beastie Boys’ retarded cousins, the Poppies decided to get serious and come down heavy on the KKK, scary air travel and censorship. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and some of the beats still pack a wallop (especially on “Dance of the Mad Bastards” and “Lived in Splendour: Died in Chaos”), but the absurd sloganeering is tiresome. One anomaly: the beatific electropop “X Y & Zee,” a splendid extended remix of which appears on the CD.
The quartet replaced its beatbox with a human drummer to no avail on The Looks or the Lifestyle; the album still sounds factory-built, underwritten and overproduced. Even “Karmadrome,” the lone highlight, manages to eighty-six a throbbing, frantic dance track with an awful bridge.
Dropped by RCA after Lifestyle, the Poppies were snatched up by fan Trent Reznor for his fledgling nothing label. Before the group could get a new full-length album out, however, a spate of British releases of varying quality appeared. There Is No Love Between Us Anymore compiles eight pre-irritation-era songs, including the great Buzzcocks-inspired title track (a 1987 single also on Box Frenzy). The live Weird’s Bar and Grill documents a ’92 performance at London’s Brixton Academy. RCA’s so-there compilation, 16 Different Flavours of Hell, can hardly be called a greatest-hits album, as it disregards all of the band’s superior early material — but it also leaves out a lot of crap. Go Box Frenzy / Now for a Feast! is a British double-CD reissue of those two records. Including a couple of remixes, the seven-track Amalgamation offered a foretaste of the band’s nothing debut.
Perhaps owing to Reznor’s patronage, the Poppies turn up the guitars on Dos Dedos Mis Amigos and rock harder than ever. The “songs,” however, are every bit as unmemorable as those on The Looks or the Lifestyle, save for the growling “Cape Connection,” which sounds awfully like Killing Joke. Two Fingers, My Friends is the remix companion to Dos Dedos, with studio intrusions by the likes of Foetus and Renegade Soundwave. Graham Crabb (originally the Poppies’ drummer, then co- vocalist and lyricist with guitarist Clint Mansell) left PWEI after Dos Dedos to concentrate on his shortlived Golden Claw solo project.
Before they formed Pop Will Eat Itself, Mansell, Crabb, Richard March and Adam Mole were Wild & Wondering. 2,000 Light Ales From Home, a four-song 12-inch which reportedly sold only 90 copies, sounds at best like a low-rent Three Johns and at worst like Simple Minds, complete with keyboards and plaintive vocals. This Gothic skeleton in the Poppies’ closet even includes a nine-minute opus entitled “The Appletree” that does hint slightly at the group’s future creative larceny, lifting Buzzcocks lyrics in “likes is the illusion / love is the dream / I saw your picture in a magazine,” Led Zeppelin riffs and lyrics from the Rolling Stones’ “2,000 Light Years From Home.” Also of significance: the lineup of Wild & Wondering at various times included future Wonder Stuff members Miles Hunt and Malcolm Treece.