PiL – Metal Box – a re-evaluation

Posted: 08/07/2013 in Album Review
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PiL - Metal Box a re-evaluation

It’s a bit elitist to question an album just because it is critically lauded. However, there is a branch of journalists that will praise something out of fear that if they don’t they won’t be taken seriously. There are a number of ‘classic’ albums that are straining under the test of time that still get mandatory full marks.

You can’t deny the importance of Metal Box. It has claims of being one of the first post-rock albums. Although so does anything released a decade earlier during krautrock – a movement Metal Box is hugely indebted to. It’s use of dub is well deployed and authentic and the interplay between the subby bass and tapering guitar is written large over the early 80s.

You can’t base a review on importance alone. You have to evaluate how good the music sounds to someones ears in 2013, and a number of songs on Metal Box are quite tiresome.

Memories and No Birds just go on and on and Bad Baby is a haphazard jam that should never have made it onto an album.

Poptones is a highlight. A sinister, at-odds combination of instruments that really shouldn’t work underpinning the story of an abduction. A genuinely unnerving song, but at 7:50 it outstays its welcome. In contrast to that, Radio 4 is surprisingly pleasant and wouldn’t sound out of place in the second half of Bowie’s Low.

Another highlight is the relentless Chant. Clearly one of Mark E. Smiths favourite songs, it is a satisfying din. The trouble is it also goes on far too long, which typifies the problem with the album as a whole. Each song by the one minute mark has established all it’s going to do and hard as you try the album just loses your attention.

There is a unique sound to Metal Box and it has a load of interesting ideas thrown at it. It’s just frustratingly lacking in any compositional flair. For that reason the album becomes more of a cultish oddity and sadly not a classic.


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