Free Pawn – Apes, Pigs & Spacemen

Apes, Pigs & Spacemen

review by Alasdair Stuart

You have to admire any band that chooses to open the first track on the album with the line "We don't know anything." Coming in at under three minutes, Dumb is anything but, a tight, driving angry piece of rock that sees the band lash out at the culture of the average, the belief that we should all just sit quietly and let ourselves be entertained. It's an admirable sentiment and at 2:47, the song makes its point without being preachy.

Bored Of Everything builds on that, fusing 1950s' sci-fi sound effects with a much heavier sound and hints of rap as it explores the sea of information we swim in daily and how much of it is ultimately irrelevant to our daily lives. The Wrong Pill sees a welcome change of pace, starting with nothing but a vocal and a guitar line and building from there. The opening bars in particular are reminiscent of Nirvana but for once that's not damning with faint praise. The song quickly builds into something more complex but retains the basics of those first few bars throughout.

Screws is built around a deep, almost baritone chorus that then builds into the driving, urgent body of the track. This versatility is further demonstrated on Dead Room, one of the strongest tracks on the album. Another bare bones opening opens out into a triumphantly dark wall of noise that works on every level. There are also some nice postproduction touches here that enhance the atmosphere of the track without making it sound over-produced.

The Morning After continues in the same vein and again, finds something new to do with the approach. Here, the rest of the band is largely contained to the choruses, the verses mixing apocalyptic imagery with the disintegration of a relationship to great effect. The Man Who's Not At All is another of the more impressive tracks, this time focussing on the lyrics and vocals, both of which approach rap here. This trend is continued with So What If, the core of which is a single line of near rap along the lines of former House Of Pain front-man Everlast's solo work. It's also the first track that feels genuinely different to the others, its more subdued approach a welcome change after some heavy production numbers.

No One sits between the two styles of the album, the laconic near-rap vocal backed by some understated but insistent rock. It's not as good as So What If but it still works and the chorus is arguably the most anthemic on the album. Out of Our Minds is the weakest track on the album, well produced and performed but ultimately little more than a chugging guitar line and repetitive lyrics. Revolution, one of the longest tracks on the album follows it and does a much better job, managing to avoid the Lost Prophets' style overblown emotions that the title threatens. Having said that, the minute-long, sample-laden outro to the track bears absolutely no connection to the track or in fact, anything else on the album.

After All the closing track is simple, head down, driving heavy metal and its almost impossible to not breathe a sigh of relief. After an entire album of Apes, Pigs & Spacemen struggling to find a sound they're comfortable with, they finally manage it and the end result is priceless. Urgent, angry and short, it ends the album on a real high note.

There's a lot to enjoy on Free Pawn but there should have been more. Too many tracks sound the same and the real shame of it is that when the band do commit to a sound, and when they really do cut loose, then they're an incredibly tight band. In years to come, I suspect Free Pawn will be regarded as a step along the way instead of a definitive album in its own right. Apes, Pigs & Spacemen have at least one great album in them. But not quite yet...