WARNING: Wall of text about to follow...
There's no doubting that Mano Negra, along with The Pogues, were key in the development of folk-punk/world-punk but, while they have a similar sense of humour to Gogol Bordello, Manu Chao's ever-chirpy voice and the use of circus music on Puta's Fever make the silliness too much to bear at times. Mais quand même...Sidi H Bibi makes sense of the chaos, its Arabic instrumentation signposting the more eclectic approach the band and Chao would take in later years.
Chairs Missing is a more subtle expansion of rock's outer reaches than PF but also a more radical one. As per their usual methods, Wire apply prog's experimentation and disregard for standard structure to short, ragged post-punk tunes, while Colin Newman's Estuary vocals make light work of Graham Lewis' lyrics identifying with insects and misunderstanding foreign movies.
Chairs Missing takes apart Puta's Fever.
Street Hassle sees Reed go back to dancing to that rock and roll station, it won't save anyone's life this time but it's alright. It's certainly helped by its 'live' feel, like you're seeing his show at a crowded dive bar. The sprawling title track is the main attraction, with its hyper-realistic reportage of urban decay and decadence alternately gripping and bewildering.
Soul Mining has held up much better than many of its similarly produced contemporaries, mainly down to its use of synths only as texture, rather than the core component of the songs, showing its roots in rock (I've Been Waiting for Tomorrow...), blues (This Is the Day) and jazz (Uncertain Smile) while still being a breathing product of its time. Trying to get out of a rut seems a repeated theme but Matt Johnson always offers himself hope of improvement here, which makes sense of the album's aspirations to being soul music in its own way. Giant is the album's only duff note, lingering around for a good four minutes longer than it needs to.
Soul Mining sees off Street Hassle.
From the Lions Mouth finds itself placed between Joy Division and bands like The Cult without providing the strong hooks and poetic alienation needed to make its gloom sound appealing. The album does get close to where it wants to be when it slows down, however, giving light and shade to New Dark Age, and purpose to the hesitant Silent Air.
Equally gothic but on a different scale entirely is Abyss. Dread and excitement run through the album, Wolfe seeming to battle against the cruelties of nature and human nature. The numbness of Grey Days feels like a respite once she starts to completely unravel from After the Fall onwards. Toe-tapping background music it is not but rarely less than morbidly compelling.
Abyss cuts deeper than From the Lions Mouth.
Until the sky turns green and the grass is several shades of blue...