Powerman 5000 Drop The Perfect Album For The Season With The Noble Rot
Spider One and Powerman 5000 drop the album of the season, and of the season of gothic decay that 2020 has turned out to be.
I really thought it was going to be Marilyn Manson who was going to release the Autumnal album that was to encapsulate the season of decay that most of 2020 has turned out to be. Spider One and Powerman 5000 ended up beating him to the punch with The Noble Rot. Although there isn’t anything on The Noble Rot that hits as hard emotionally as Manson’s “WE ARE CHAOS,” Powerman 5000 has made the best goth electro-rock album since anything by mid-period Ministry. Like Ministry, Powerman 5000, at least since 2003’s Transform, have laced their music and lyrics with at times scathing, but more often inspiring, social commentary. The dark waves that crash so ponderously in their listeners’ ears this time around are laced with loads of references and metaphors that at once are insightful, hard-hitting, and at times even transcendent of their dark inclinations and insights.
It all starts with the album’s first track, “Cannibal Killers That Kill Everyone.” Like most good zombie fiction storytellers, Spider spins an allegorical tale where the “cannibal killers” serve as the stand-in for everything from social (media) pressure to political manipulation. “They fatten you up/They fatten you up/They sold you some lies/They fatten you up/The sold you some dreams/And now you’re fucked!” Direct? Yes. Profound? Maybe. Relevant? Hell, yes. The smart commentary continues on the next track “Brave New World.” Over a steady live drum beat and a sampled guitar riff, Spider raps, “Welcome to the brave new world/same as the old scared world/The more we change/The more we stay the same/Looking for someone to blame” when it’s obvious that we are to blame that “Science fiction came true.” On “Play God or Play Dead” Spider bemoans the loss of concerts and the transitory permanence of our lives, especially now: “You can be replaced/With a prettier face/and somethings aren’t allowed/Without the roar of the crowd/But what’s the difference anyway?/As we delay our own decay/Stay asleep or decide to wake/The only choice that you have to make is/Play God or Play Dead.”
“Black Lipstick” showcases Spider delivering his best Peter Murphy tribute vocal (he even sings the line “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”). The song is a goth rock masterpiece and after the heavy subject matter of the album’s first few songs, it’s a bit of a relief to blow off a little sexual steam. Spider seems to acknowledge that sensual pleasure is still possible in this dark age, but the goth overtones here hint at its much darker potential outcome. The bars are still mostly closed. Casual sex is as dangerous as it’s been since the outbreak of AIDS in the 80s, and your choice of causual partner maybe potentially fatal, if not for you, then maybe someone you love.
Clocking in at a lean 30 minutes, The Noble Rot is rounded out with other standout tracks like “Strange People Doing Strange Things,” the album’s most straightforward homage to early 80s goth, while “Let the Insects Rule” stomps a gothic plea for an insectoid apocalypse. Speaking of the early 80s though, perhaps the best (and maybe only at least that I’ve ever heard) cover of The Go-Gos’ “We Got The Beat” sets the stage for the album’s haunting last track “VHS.” “Let’s rewind like a VHS/Turn back the time/Feel the beat in our chest/Make sure that we never forget/Let’s rewind like a VHS.” The 80s weren’t all scary and filled with movies like Spider pays tribute to in album tracks “Special Effects” and “Movie Blood.” Compared to now, despite all of its own specific horrors, the 80s feel like a misty memory. For senior members of GenX like Spider, it most likely was. It’s the 2020s now though, and although the road ahead is dark and uncertain, at least we have Powerman 5000’s The Noble Rot to help us ease on down the shadowy path before us.