The Revolution That Wasn’t
Apparently the fire of reminiscence wasn’t enough. Agitprop elder statesman Mark Stewart squeaks off another for the riot guards with The Politics of Envy, a musical Molotov that burns brightly but never quite sparks a revolution. Back again are the weapons of Mark’s battletested arsenal: his militant and claustrophobic beats, those machine-gunning synths, and the singer’s own chant-shouting nihilist Svengali routine. The album is one strewn with graffiti, broken glass, and paranoia. At its best, the sex appeal of rioting in the street seems irresistible. But sprinkled throughout, you’re met with the irony of an aging communist trying to start a youth rebellion.
Songs like “Automonia” and “Gang War” are real squad car busters, however. The former clangs and yelps with thuggish abandon, chugging along like some high-as-a-kite, murderous boogie where the guitars even whir and phase like police sirens. Mark, ever the provocateur, shouts repeatedly, “Keeping the dream alive!” It’s a sleazy good cut, and every bit as narcotic and fiery as some of Mark’s classic output with the Pop Group. “Gang War” is a hit, too, flaming up like an afro-Caribbean warzone. Over a dense brush of mid-tempo beats, the singer affects his best Rastafarian warlord, namedropping all the world’s meanest militant groups, gun runners, and diamond traders. The result is nuts: rave fodder for those in boots and berets.
“Method to the Madness” fails to discharge, though, with the singer doing his gassiest Scary Monsters-era Bowie amid a miasma of drums and strings. Mark’s generously aerated “oh-ohhh” beckons not so much a revolution as maybe a Tums. And a nap. Envy’s other big misstep also recalls Bowie in the form of a proper cover—“Letter to Hermione.” In a decision perhaps only meaningful to William Shatner, Mark opts to skirt the song’s melody and just talk-sing the hell out of it. Attention Gil Scott-Heron: Maybe it’s best the revolution will not be televised.
The net takeaway from The Politics of Envy is one of a failed plastic explosive. The schematic was followed and all the wiring seemed on-point, but when it actually came time to blow up a police station, it just let off another “oh-ohhh.” So much for anarchy. Tums, please!