As part of the timely reissue programme around Adrian Sherwood's legendary On-U Sound releases, Mark Stewart's Learning To Cope With Cowardice must remain the most extraordinary jewel in the crown of post-punk glory. Before you go any further, be warned: this was not designed as easy listening. And so it remains to this day...
Stewart, former vocalist with Bristol agit-funk-rockers, The Pop Group, was a man driven by demons. Contemporary interviews had him muttering darkly about police surveillance and underground missile silos. In a world still gripped by the tail-end of the cold war, his dystopian vision was a wickedly apposite riposte to the burgeoning me-isms of New Romanticism. Many will recall his work purely for one reason: His version opf Blake's "Jerusalem" - played on a regular basis by John Peel and constantly being asked for by listeners. It should probably be our new national anthem.
It's this track which best sums up the joy of this album. A corruscating swirl of deep industrial dub (provided here by Sherwood's house band - African Headcharge) - it's a wild pairing of the cut-up radicalism of Sherwood and the compressed rant of Stewart's paranoia - all laced together with a brass band rendition that recalls Albion's grime that originally inspired it.
But the rest of the album's just as great. Basslines support a mangled coagulation of screams, yelps and rants about lurking terror, political machination and urban dread. Heavy manners, indeed. Stewart never found a better studio partner than Sherwood and in today's skunk-addled climate it seems just as relevant as ever. Essential... --Chris Jones
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