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POP BEAT

Pop Will Eat Itself, the Band, to Dish Up New Kitchen-Sink Look Tonight at Coach House

October 12, 1989|Mike Boehm

All right, so pop will eat itself.

Then what? Brandy and cigars? A post-prandial nap? A cosmic burp?

As one of two lead vocalists of the British band Pop Will Eat Itself, Graham Crabb does not hesitate to consider what will happen if the prediction comes true.

The supposition, Crabb said in a recent phone interview, is that once pop has eaten itself, there will be perfection.

"We got the name from this guy who was theorizing that you'd just end up with one perfect song," he said. "Because pop songs keep nicking the best parts of other songs."

On its most recent album, "This Is the Day . . . This Is the Hour . . . This Is This !," Pop Will Eat Itself feeds omnivorously from a varied stylistic menu.

PWEI, which plays tonight at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, bites off big chunks of rap and heavy metal, gobbles some of the punk rock that was the band's first inspiration, and spices it all with lots of "found" audio artifacts collected from all over the junk-culture landscape--everything from Motown snippets to ad slogans to the play-by-play call of a John Elway touchdown pass.

The band from Birmingham, England, deftly arranges all of these sources into an assaultive, but sensible collage. PWEI's album comes off as a funny smorgasbord in which a seemingly endless array of pop styles and media messages are sampled, tasted and either spat out or savored (Rick Astley, nuclear warfare, fast food and alcoholism fail to meet the taste test; science-fiction fantasy and pop styles that are noisy, emphatic, and identified with troublemakers win the blue ribbon).

Pop Will Eat Itself didn't have this kind of sound collage in mind when it started about four years ago, Crabb said. It first gained notice for playing a rough-hewn British pop-rock style that came to be known as Grebo.

"We revived this '70s (slang) word for dork or nerd , and the press had to build this movement around it to describe everyone with long hair and a nasty guitar sound," he said. "I think Grebo was dead as soon as it started. The English press are always looking for the next new thing."

With its new kitchen-sink sound, Pop Will Eat Itself doesn't have to worry about being trapped by narrow terminology. "Nobody's really come up with a description of what we do, and we're quite happy about that," Crabb said. "It gives us absolute freedom."

The band, which also includes singer Clint Mansell, bassist Richard March and guitarist Adam Mole, all in their mid-20s, began expanding its stylistic diet about 18 months ago, Crabb said. "Our sound was pretty much going down a cul-de-sac. We found these other influences, and it's a lot more interesting. We just started listening to a lot of new stuff, stuff we hadn't heard before. We saw Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys come over and play, and they blew us away."

The idea that pop songs continually regurgitate parts of other pop songs is not only a theme for PWEI, but a driving mechanism for its music. "So we steal/So what/So far so good/We're Robin Hoods" they announce at one point.

The album's cleverest song, "Not Now James, We're Busy," started off as a joke about how rap groups continually cannibalize James Brown's catalogue beat by beat and riff by riff. It turned into a hilarious recounting of Brown's now-famous capture by the police following an epic car chase.

As if to prove the theory that pop feeds on itself, Big Audio Dynamite, the band fronted by former Clash guitarist Mick Jones, has just turned up with its own recounting of the James Brown arrest saga.

"We were really surprised, 'cause some of the lyrics are so similar," Crabb said. "We used some press clips to get the lyrics right. Perhaps B.A.D. did the same."

In live performance, PWEI has to face the same issue confronted by rap groups: since the music is so much a product of studio technology, how can it be translated to the stage? Most rap groups strip down their material when performing live and go without the studio effects, losing much of the music's inventiveness and vitality. PWEI, which is nearing the end of its first tour of the United States, has taken a different approach. The singing, guitar and bass parts are live, but the beats, disc-jockey scratching and audio bites come prerecorded.

"We could strip it down and try to keep it live, but I can't see the point in that," Crabb said. "It's just so much inferior, once people are used to hearing the record."

Crabb dismisses as "snobbish" those who insist that music accomplished through practiced skill has more value than music, like PWEI's, that patches together and recycles bits and pieces of pre-existing, digital information.

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