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Meatraffle - Base and Superculture

  by Adrian Janes

published: 25 / 10 / 2023

Meatraffle - Base and Superculture
Label: Blang Records
Format: CD


On their third album, Meatraffle mix various musical influences and the strangest names since the Magic Band with a dash of Marx, in a poprockjazz cocktail.

Right from the title of the opening track - ‘Lovesong Industrial Complex’ - Meatraffle demonstrate a blend of pop savvy and political awareness that makes them at once hard to categorise and intriguing. The song muses on the popularity of the theme of love in commercial songs: “The obligatory ‘Baby’/Whose formula seems to work”, while being driven by a strong dance base that is capped by a keyboard and trumpet superstructure. Forceful drums and bass, lightened by a Pulpesque keyboard line, also underlie ‘Posh People in Pop’. This takes particular aim at Bryan Ferry (though they might more justifiably have had a pop at the plethora of ex-public schoolboys in some of today’s biggest bands). Apart from the occasional witty line, e.g. “Born in the ghettos of Richmond Park”, it’s let down by an uninventive chorus that consists of the title repeated eight times in succession. Singer (and trumpeter) Zsa Zsa Sapien’s voice has a downbeat tone that on tracks like ‘Secret Fizzy Wine Drinker’ and ‘Lambeth Walk’ approaches the wistful plaintiveness of Robert Wyatt. On the first, he’s complemented by drawn-out melancholy guitar notes, while on the second it’s the combination of trumpet and keyboard which create a pensive atmosphere as he reflects on lockdown life, with an affecting string-laden passage for good measure. While the rhythm section of Cloudy Truffles (bass) and Baby Jayzus (drums) are solid throughout the album, these two tracks also highlight how the prominence of the other players shifts within and between songs. On the surface evoking Katrina and the Waves’ ‘Walking On Sunshine’, ‘Managgia La Miseria’ (Italian for ‘Blast the Misery’, though reportedly rather stronger than that sounds) is actually a bittersweet (or perhaps sweet/bitter) attack on the economic idea of “the trickle-down effect” and the parched reality it means for many, maybe not least the sad character behind ‘Secret Fizzy Wine Drinker’. Evidently enjoying the joke themselves, but probably a bit too much, there are two parts to ‘Street Names’ but basically one idea: a list of absurd personal names (much like those adopted by the band), one of which (guitarist Tingle Lungfish) was allegedly given to the police during an arrest. The second is more electronic in approach, while the first foregrounds the trumpet, but aside from demonstrating some musical versatility there’s not much to hear or see here. ‘New Maps of Hell’ depicts the stereotypical right-wing members of a golf club and their GB News-level views (“Let’s all blame it all on spicy food and socialism”.) Musically it feels sprightly, a rimshot-rapped rhythm and squirts of synth, making lyrics about those in “the sand bunkers of history” feel all the more caustic. It's fascinating to compare the anxiety behind Meatraffle’s ‘Robots’ with Kraftwerk’s forty-year-old song. Where the Germans seemed to relish the prospect of becoming man-machines, Sapien is bombarded with complimentary messages online that he does not know if he can trust, precisely because he knows they might be generated technologically rather than by a fellow human. “Prove to me you’re not robots”, he implores, “Give me two forms of ID”. Much like Kraftwerk did, Meatraffle generate a compulsively danceable rhythm, with their jazz, rock and electronica elements of trumpet, guitar and keyboard all at full pelt by the end. ‘Bully Boss’ opens with Dexys-esque brass, and has the same kind of lyrical frankness as Kevin Rowland; in fact, more so. It’s easy to imagine the communal catharsis of the chorus when played live: “Take your job and stick it/Where the sun don’t shine”. The song presents the scenario of a boss paying for the drinks at a work ‘do’, only to tear it down to remind you forcibly of the power relationship that exists the rest of the time. This is immediately followed by the light ‘Power Shower’, the delicate guitar phrase somehow evocative of Japanese pop. Humour is a necessary ingredient in Meatraffle’s worldview, and here it’s found in the self-mocking fantasy of the bathroom turning Sapien into a great singer. It’s probably reading too much into it beyond the strain to rhyme with ‘wash’, but is there still a political undercurrent in the fact that he chooses to sing Peter Tosh’s ‘Downpressor Man’? The album is wrapped up by ‘Smallest Gang’, apparently inspired by the couple of petty thieves in ‘Pulp Fiction’. This pair are likewise romantically and practically involved, though wryly aware that they’re merely “an innocuous Bonny and Clyde”. In truth it’s a pretty inconsequential track, although as the only one that could be described as a love song it at least confirms that the band are not going to make so-called love their only theme. ‘Base and Superstructure’ leans towards pop enough for many of the songs to have an immediate impact, but there is also sufficient going on musically for more subtle contributions and effects to emerge in later listens. Both angry and amused, Marx-wise Meatraffle make room for both Karl and Groucho.

Track Listing:-
1 Lovesong Industrial Complex
2 Posh People In Pop
3 Secret Fizzy Wine Drinke
4 Mannaggia La Miseria
5 Street Names, Pt. 1
6 New Maps Of Hell
7 Robots
8 Bully Boss E
9 Power Shower
10 Lambeth Walk
11 Street Names, Pt. 2
12 Smallest Gang

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