Album Review: The Membranes – “What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away”
Since reforming (or mutating out of John Robb’s other band Goldblade depending on your view) around five years ago, the Membranes have been a busy band. Following on from their epic astronomy-themed comeback album, 2015’s Dark Matter/Dark Energy, What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away sees them taking a look at the natural world over a sprawling 16-track 72-minute double album.
Now, something like this is only ever gonna go one of three ways – an ill-thought-out mess, an overlong self-indulgent bore or something that actually hits the nail on the head perfectly and which you end up losing yourself inside for weeks on end. And I’m happy to report that this album is very much the latter. The Membranes have never been a band afraid to go well outside their comfort zone and What Nature Gives… sees them veering from snarled up punk through spaced-out dub, swooping Joy Division style gloominess, Killing Joke indebted apocalyptic fury and angular Magazine-esque post-punk. The key here is that no two tracks are the same, and just when you think you’ve sussed this album out, something will come out of left-field to smack you in the side of the head and grab your attention.
There’s definitely an element of Patti Smith style beat poetry to the lyrics here as well, with the musings on songs such as the title track, Deep In The Forest Where The Memories Linger and The Ghosts Of Winter Stalk This Land giving plenty of pause for thought. They’ve assembled an impressive guest list too, with appearances from Kirk Brandon (Spear of Destiny/Theatre of Hate), ex-Pistols/McLaren associate Jordan and even Chris Packham of all people, who shows up to provide a spoken word diatribe on humanity’s crimes against the natural world on Winter (The Beauty and Violence of Nature).
This is definitely a tough album to wrap your head around on first listen but once you do, you’ll be coming back to it repeatedly and noticing new things with every listen. And like I say, with so much going on, this is an album you’ll be happy to lose yourself in for an hour and a bit at a time. A very impressive effort indeed.
I think I can safely say that "What Nature Gives... Nature Takes Away" will be up there in my top 5 albums come the end of 2019. The sheer scope of the thing is absolutely mind-boggling but the key is that over its 72 minutes, you certainly won't be bored. The impressive variety and the little tricks here will draw you in and keep you coming back for more. If you're not afraid to challenge yourself a bit with this month's listening then you really should check this one out.