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Mark Stewart - Kiss the Future

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Artist: Mark Stewart

Album: Kiss the Future

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Aug. 10, 2005

It's a safe bet that in 1979, 17-year-old Mark Stewart wasn't thinking much about the future. A scant few years after the Sex Pistols declared that there wasn't one, England remained in a modern version of the dark ages, politically speaking. Musically, it was exploding, and the teenage Stewart was in the midst of it as a founding member of The Pop Group. When I first heard "We Are All Prostitutes," the sheer balls of it blew me away. Listening to it again now, the song remains astonishingly fresh: vocals charged with absolute anger, trebly, choppy guitar, dub-infused rhythm section, and a beautifully messed-up squeal of horns and violin.

I'll admit that I wondered if I'd be disappointed by this retrospective. Most are filled with bland "hits" or, oftentimes worse, the artist's oddly mistaken idea of "overlooked jewels" from their back catalog. And, let's be honest; time is usually not kind to most musicians. What was once unique will frequently feel dated 20 years later, victim of a kind of reverse nostalgia.

Thankfully, I happily report that such is not the case here. In fact, the main disappointment to be found with Kiss the Future is that it's too short. For a set spanning 26 years, 12 tracks is pretty slim pickings. At 51 minutes, it's clear that at least a few more songs could have been added on, and I could personally fill a second CD with another batch quite easily.

That aside, the selections here remain consistently strong, with three Pop Group tracks that will get no argument from anyone. Besides the aforementioned masterpiece that is "We Are All Prostitutes," "Beyond Good and Evil" is a fiendishly effective skeleton of slashing guitar and restrained rhythm with Stewart's on-the-edge vocals echoing and burning through it all. "We Are Time" is icing on the cake, punk energy with a dub nervous system.

The 1980s started with Stewart shacking up with similarly skewed genius Adrian Sherwood and The Maffia, the finest ne'er-do-wells that Stewart could have hoped for. Keith Leblanc, Doug Wimbish and Skip Macdonald lay down truly ingenious rhythms and noises which, in conjunction with Adrian Sherwood's outer-space production, indeed were the future..

Even leaving aside the twisted "Jerusalem" reading of William Blake, "Liberty City" stands as perhaps the finest Maffia-related moment here. The line "The busier you are the less you see" its choppy rhythm, ridiculously catchy chorus, and simple but so effective saxophone make for an unforgettable piece.

With a retrospective of this sort, it's usually the most recent work that throws a wrench in the reminiscence. Thankfully, Stewart has lost little of his spark. While "The Puppet Master" has a slightly glossier studio sheen to it, the song still contains more than enough grit and Stewart's vocals have as much sneer as ever. And perhaps the biggest surprise here is the opening "Radio Freedom.” It's a 2005 piece with The Maffia, including Kevin Martin (God, Techno Animal). Dirty, thick, and just as intense as anything else here, it makes me hope that there might be a whole new album from Mark Stewart and The Maffia coming soon.

I won't even bother trying to recall the last time I heard a collection of music from an artist that spans over 25 years yet all sounds as if it could have been recorded this year. Then again, nobody else has ever really sounded like this, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

By Mason Jones

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