January 23, 2021

Phenomenal Cat: Pop Wasteland

Concept albums and rock operas are not en vogue anymore, but that did not stop English sextet Phenomenal Cat from releasing one in 2017. As they prepare themselves for their next album, it is high time to have a listen to their previous record, the sprawling Sci-Fi extravagaza Pop Wasteland, a double album set in an alternate version of their hometown Folkestone in Kent: dystopian, pastoral, and first and foremost the work of a band that put their love for the music by The Kinks (they named themselves after a song from their The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society album) to good use to create a truly captivating story. Ray Davies strived to expand the basic rock format by adding brass and woodwinds, and they followed suit, enabling them to use a wide array of textures. As this album follows the classic 2LP format each side starts with a narration read by actor Kenneth Colley, best known for his portrayal of Admiral Piett in the Star Wars movies. Recurring themes act both as linking pieces and as a means to give the listener a hint in which setting the tale is taking place at any given time. And if the story line isn't exactly clear the accompanying B&W graphic novel by the band's drummer Ben Day will set the record straight.

Pop Wasteland, written by the band's singer and lead guitarist Samuel Carney, tells the story of one Albert Blood, a guy who is stuck in a dead-end job in a dead-end town, working 16 hours a day for a company called the Factory. For entertainment he only has really bad TV-shows, sketchy betting shops, and of course the music sucks. He is plagued by headaches and the pills don't help at all. He wants out, hoping for a revolution of some kind. A flooding knocks out the power, leaving the people in a flux, not knowing what to do when their regular, numbing programming grinds to a halt. The powers that be rely on diversions to keep the workforce at bay, with vague promises of a better life - in Welcome To Suburbia materialism acts as a surrogate for happiness with a brand new German car on the drive. But at night patrols roam the streets to round up anyone who is not spending the night in his lumpy bed. Behind the facade is a system that is dead set on keeping control.

With a mixture of smart pop and rock Phenomenal Cat have created an alternate version of England that isn't so different from the real thing. They inserted snippets of BBC broadcasts and radio jingles to make it sound uncannily real. For a similar perspective hunt down the Kinks ambitious Preservation Act 1 and Act 2 albums, released in 1973 and 1974, and explore a description of the English society is pretty much the same - with corporations providing entertainment and cheap housing that was not exactly built to last. The future is more often than not just another version of the past. The means change, but the basic principles are as old as the hills.

Phenomenal Cat:
Samuel Carney: lead guitar, keys, vocals
Mik Peirson: rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Natalie Kuroczycki: bass
Ben Day: drums
Dan Whitehouse: trumpet
Tim Burden: sax

Pop Wasteland is a self-released album. Buy it from their website. Available as a 2CD and 2CD + graphic novel Digital is pay-what-you-want.

Tracks:
  1. Narration #1 (Read By Kenneth Colley)
  2. Albert Blood
  3. Satellites
  4. Nowhere Town
  5. Sugarloaf Hill (Water Damaged Demo Circa. 1994)
  6. Pop!Wasteland
  7. Narration #2 (Read By Kenneth Colley)
  8. Modernism
  9. Welcome To Suburbia
  10. Magnitizdat: The Cassette Tape
  11. Pacifico
  12. Factory
  13. Narration #3 (Read By Kenneth Colley)
  14. Fade In/Fade Out
  15. The Monochrome Room
  16. Factory Radio Jingle
  17. Theme From A Pop Wasteland
  18. Motorways
  19. Narration #4 (Read By Kenneth Colley)
  20. The Dead Seekers
  21. The Dancehall
  22. Pacifico (Cowboy Version)
  23. Do Not Adjust Your TV Sets!
  24. Exit From The Auditorium

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