Review: Membranes - Everyone's Going Triple Bad Acid, Yeah!

The Membranes boxset (Cherry Red).
The Membranes boxset (Cherry Red).

The Membranes were formed in Blackpool in 1977, and their abrasive, off-kilter post-punk music found favour with the likes of legendary Radio One DJ John Peel.

They've been compiled before, but this is the most comprehensive collection of their work to date.

It spans their entire early career, from their contribution to the Blackpool Rox EP in 1980, through to their (then) final recordings in 1990.

Boasting a hefty 99 tracks, it includes all five of the albums (some now hard to find) which they recorded for a variety of labels, plus a host of singles, B-sides and compilation tracks.

Many are appearing on CD for the first time, as much of their initial output was only released on vinyl.

For the uninitiated, Membranes sound was a mad amalgam of punk, metal, jazz, and just about any genre of music you care to name.

It was driven by an burbling bass, wielded by singer John Robb, who was joined in the classic line-up by guitarist Mark Tilton and drummer 'Coofy' Sid Coulthart.

Described by Robb (now a respected author and commentator on the punk and indie scene, as well as founder of Louder Than War website and magazine) as "Death to Trad Rock", they certainly were that.

Much of their sound is based around repetition, and at times it makes for a challenging listen - a sort of prog-punk if you like - but no one said it would be easy.

Many of the song titles are odd: Corn Dolly Fear, Barbed Snake Fish Thing, Postdetergent Vacuum Cleaner Man, Life, Death And The Scary Bits In Between - I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture.

Their breakthrough 7in Spike Milligan's Tape Recorder was made single of the week in all four music papers, at a time when things like that really mattered, and found its way into th upper echelons of John Peel's much-loved Festive 50.

It's featured here, of course, as are other fan favourites such as I Am Fish Eye and Tatty Seaside Town (about their hometown, where else?).

Anyone not familiar with the band, or indeed the post-punk scene in general, will probably find much of this a cacophonous noise, punctuated by fearful wailing, but I quite like it.

I'm not alone; Membranes were said to have influenced US noise-rock bands like Sonic Youth and Big Black, whose founder Steve Albini was such a big devotee that he produced their best-known album, Kiss Ass, Godhead.

The band took a break in 1990, and that became an indefinite hiatus until 2009, when they were asked to reform to play at a festival.

That went so well that they stayed together, releasing the excellent 2015 album Dark Matter/Dark Energy (sadly not included here, but still widely available).

It's not as jarring as much of their early output, but the music here is what made them the band they are today, and for that reason is worth exploring. 6/10.