When a band does a closet-cleaning album, it’s often just not that interesting a closet — so it says something that Meat Beat Manifesto were able to assemble an album of outtakes and closet-cleanings that’s more cohesive than most actual albums by other bands. Armed Audio Warfare, the first full-length release by MBM, needs to be approached after people are already familiar with the band to be understood in its proper context. It still stands tall on its own, though — again, something most closet-cleaning records never accomplish.
Meat Beat Manifesto are one of the most successful outfits in the whole of modern-day electronic music. Not just commercially successful — although they are that; they’ve had a slew of albums that have sold well, a 5.1 remix DVD, tons of videos and plum spots on major movie soundtracks — but successful in the sense that they set out to accomplish things most people wouldn’t dare to try for fear of looking foolish. Their sound is a massive amalgam of influences — the industrial-dance / electro-funk sound of groups like Tackhead; conventional pop music; rap; and wall-to-wall noise. Like other bands who manage to suck in a bewildering array of sounds and make it theirs, it all comes out sounding like nothing other than MBM. That’s the secret of their success, to me: they put their stamp of personality on everything that comes out of their machinery. Warfare doesn’t so much feel like a freshman effort as a remix album, and a very good one at that.
The story behind Warfare is as interesting as the album itself. The MBM crew — which consisted of prime instigator Jack Dangers and his hangers-on — had already put out several 45s and 12” releases bearing the MBM name, earning them fair attention in their native England. The next step was a full album, but a fire in the studio destroyed most of the session tapes. Dangers wasn’t one to flinch from a setback and set about working with older tapes to reconstruct much of the album’s sound. When released, the record bore an explanation of these facts and the note, “Had Armed Audio Warfare been completed as intended, it would have sounded something like this.”
Many of the ideas and concepts in Warfare would be later re-used and revamped for successive albums, but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating or compelling here. Consider “Genocide,” the opening cut: it’s the core groove from what would become “Psych-Out” on the 99% album and the lyrics for “God O.D.” from Storm the Studio. It’s as much fun to listen to the album just for its own sake as it is to try to tell where specific elements ended up later in the MBM catalogue. Some of the best tracks, however, are standalones, like the creepy “Repulsion,” with its wailing vocal loop and slow, thundering beat that gives way (for a time) to a curiously upbeat melody.
The MBM penchant for stealing anything and everything in sight for the sake of a song is also in full force here. “Mister President” is one of the best, a frankly hilarious collage of samples, noises, loops and beats that sets the tone for what would become the staple MBM sound. “Cutman” and “Marrs Needs Women” (no, not “Mars”,”Marrs” — it’s that way for a reason) are the same sort of thing, two tracks not on the original LP but appended to the CD reissue and which actually flow well at the end.
Many of the tracks here clearly became the core inspiration for Storm the Studio, the follow-up record. “Reanimator,” “I Got the Fear,” “Give Your Body Its Freedom” and “Fear Version” would all form the nuclei of other songs, or lend an element here and there to other, completely new compositions. Again, that aside, they’re quite listenable on their own — they don’t sound raw or unfinished in the slightest, and the production is always excellent, even on total noise blowout tracks like “Kneel & Buzz” (peppered with NASA samples — Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, get it?)
Warfare first came to the attention of audiences in the States via Wax Trax! Records, who also issued several other MBM products after Warfare came out in 1987. With the collapse of Wax Trax! in all but name (and the demise of the original label, Sweatbox Records), Mute has relicensed all of the MBM back catalogue for international issue. Fifteen years haven’t made them sound any less adventurous — no, not even this reconstructed, so-called closet-cleaning effort.