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The Lead Review

Let The Wrecking Ball Loose: 'Fire' By The Bug
JR Moores , August 26th, 2021 13:15

Kevin Martin has embraced his inner Hulk for The Bug's first abum in seven years, writes JR Moores

Picture: Caroline Lassire

Fire is the first album by The Bug for seven years, except that it sort of isn't. Like a tower-building termite or dogged dung beetle, this busy arthropod rarely puts his tarsi up for long.

During those seven years, there have been records on which The Bug has shared joint billing with another artist. Concrete Desert by The Bug vs Earth fused dub and drone metal in a smoky fashion. Packed with deep, booming and soulful cuts, In Blue by The Bug and Dis Fig indicated the direction that trip-hop might have taken, had it not been co-opted by all those This Life dinner partiers. The Bug has also acted as producer and co-writer on others' albums (see Miss Red's post-dancehall smasher K.O.) and he is a member of the groups King Midas Sound and ZONAL, the latter a renamed resurrection of the older Techno Animal project.

There have also been a slew of recent releases under his real name: Kevin Richard Martin. So far, most of the works billed under the title he has on his passport were released last year, while the pandemic was in full catastrophe mode. These ones have exhibited the Dr Bruce Banner side of his personality and sound: contemplative, melancholic, sedate, introverted, calm. They're the score that plays as Martin strolls down the dusty road, knapsack in hand, towards the next town that will have him, since the last one he visited banished him for blowing their expensive speakers with ribcage-snapping bass.

The Bug, by contrast, is that ribcage-snapper incarnate. His Incredible Hulk. Loud. Roaring. Furious. Primal. Powerful. Clattering. Destructive. Green musical muscles bursting from the sleeves of a torn grey hoodie.

Looking back on The Bug's fourth album, 2014's Angels & Devils, it was almost as if the Banner and Hulk dichotomies were jostling for prominence. On the LP's earlier and mellower tracks, the Banner superego tried its best to hold onto the reins, luring listeners into a false sense of security, before later cuts like 'The One', 'Fuck A Bitch' and 'Fuck You' let the wrecking ball loose.

With Fire, that irrepressible Hulkness, pent-up over lockdown and eager to return from hermitic isolation to red-lit rooms full of sweating, dancing and juddering bodies, is back to wreak full sonic mayhem again. The ideal live show, Martin says, should "alter your DNA, or scar you for life in a good way." The material offered here is guaranteed to succeed.

In many ways it feels like a more direct sequel to 2008's London Zoo, described by at least one critic in unintentional Hulk-ian terms as "tense," "angry" and "ferocious, but always triumphant," adding that it "threatens to bust out your windows and rip holes in your speakers." Fire's ingredients are similar to those of London Zoo, but all the measurements have somehow been upped. The mutant basslines are deeper than a humpback anglerfish, and almost as ugly. The tracks are packed with apocalyptic rumbles, industrial clankery and sepulchral beats, decorated with inner-city sirens and other smog-ridden reverberations.

Martin has stopped overthinking things, he has said, going with his instincts instead. By relaxing his self-confessed "maniacal control," he's letting the music breathe for itself and teem out more naturally. The Hulk is on the loose.

It's not all sheer brutality, mind. There is a playfulness to the quieter or underlying details, when you can pick them out at least. They'll become more noticeable with repeat listens. The real Dr Banner is always lurking somewhere beneath that thick green skin.

And just because his is the sole name on the sleeve's spine, it doesn't mean The Bug is working alone, much like the Hulk in those Avengers films I haven't actually seen. Providing articulation to the sonic carnage are a motley crew of guest vocalists, both new recruits and long-term Bug comrades. Clocking up the greatest number of appearances (i.e. three) is his old mucker Flowdan. The Batman to Martin's Hulk, his menacing baritone seeps from the shadows, his bars relying on strength, training and precision, rather than fancy superheroic laserworks. Flaunting a faster, Flash-like flow is Logan on his two tracks, 'Clash' and 'Fuck Off'. I realise I'm mixing my cinematic franchises here, but you get the idea. Consider it a crossover.

Possessed of an even deeper growl than Flowdan is dub poet Nazamba. On the subject of conflict and injustice, he croaks as if Prince Far I has got a whole colony of bullfrogs wedged in his throat. Fellow Jamaican Daddy Freddy's 'Ganja Baby' may not be the most inventive lyric ever, packing as many synonyms for weed into three minutes as humanly possible, but the irresistible directness of both the music and words is certain to make any room "go off."

Among the other vocalists is Moor Mother, last seen with Martin on the first half of ZONAL's excellent Wrecked LP in 2019. She's on fearsome form here, inviting listeners to a fight that she is in no way going to lose. Despite the funeral chime backing, Northampton MC FFSYTHO sounds like she's having the most fun of all the contributors, spitting defiantly between choruses of "how 'bout that?!," whooping and laughing as she goes. On the bouncing next number, 'Bang', Manga Saint Hilare also seems to be enjoying himself. His later appearance, on the penultimate 'High Rise', is a moodier affair, concerned as it is with the vicious societal systems that prevent the urban underclasses from being able to improve their lot.

Fire is bookended by two brooding pieces featuring the award-winning poet and King Midas Sound member Roger Robinson. The first one is set in an easy-to-envisage dystopia. The second is a haunting tribute to the Grenfell Tower fire victims. From henceforth, this track needs to be played at the commencement of each new session of Parliament, its volume gradually increasing until it causes Jacob Rees-Mogg's haughty intestines to involuntarily collapse out of his permanently pursed lower hole.

BUG SMASH! BUG DEAFEN! BUG RATTLE RAFTERS! BUG TREMBLE BOWELS! BUG BRING DOWN PUNY CEILING! BUG SHUDDER LISTENERS' WHOLE SKELETONS! BUG BLOW SOUNDSYSTEM! BUG DESTROY! BUG ALTER DNA! BUG CRUSH! BUG SHAKE EARTH! BUG MAKE FIRE! BUG MAKE WORLD BETTER PLACE THAN WHEN BUG ENTERED IT!