What Nature Gives…Nature Takes Away is the new album from The Membranes. The band formed in 1977 and were post-punk before post-punk was a thing. This is a long way from the “three chords and the truth” mythos of the late ‘70s with its choir, orchestral arrangements and dance elements but the “truth” part is still apposite. The spirit of punk is present too, particularly as The Membranes have taken the template and feel of punk and cultivated it into a beast of their own conception. It’s clear from the opening bar that this band is trying something different. That would be interesting enough if this were a hot new act on the scene but seeing as The Membranes formed in the ashes of punk’s first wave, it’s all the more impressive.
Layered choral singing forms the hook of ‘A Strange Perfume’ but doesn’t define it. Like the rest of What Nature Gives…, it’s informed by dance music (of every ilk), dub, post punk, synth pop, goth and an unapologetic artiness. For evidence of the latter, check out the titles of tracks like ‘Winter (The Beauty And Violence Of Nature)’ and ‘Deep In The Forest Where The Memories Linger’.
The title track brings the tempo down a little with an arrangement that is melancholy and epic in vision. A foreboding sense of doomed resignation permeates the album and it’s coupled with an instinctive groove that is too often forgotten by ‘serious’ artists; this is music that makes you want to move. ‘A Murder Of Crows’ mixes dirty funk guitar and a Birthday Party vibe replete with over-the-top vocals, while the shadow of Nick Cave also falls on ‘The City Is An Animal’ but this time it’s more of a Bad Seeds-era tune. ‘The 21st Century Is Killing Me’ starts out with a mournful chorus of “Breathe in/breathe out” like something from the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? and changes direction on multiple occasions with that opening refrain tying the whole tune together.
The momentum gained by the quality of the title track and the early promise of What Nature Gives… fade quickly as the album sags in the middle under the weight of its own seriousness. The metallic guitars of ‘The Magical And Mysterious Properties Of Flowers’ offer a brief respite but every song sounds like it is the centrepiece of the album and therein lies a problem. A couple more raucous numbers like ‘A Murder Of Crows’ or some light relief would have made this a must-have record but it really doesn’t recover once that initial creative burst is spent.
You can pre-order What Nature Gives…Nature Takes Away here