POWERMAN 5000 – Abandon Ship

During the pandemic lockdown of 2020, Powerman 5000 released their tenth studio album, ‘The Noble Rot’. Beyond the band’s hardcore fans, the album went largely unnoticed, but it actually contained some great material. It was actually a contender for being the best Powerman album since the shelved ‘Anyone For Doomsday’ – excepting 2011’s brilliant covers collection ‘Copies, Clones & Replicants’ – and proved that Spider One was still capable of sharing some great riffs. Much like the rest of the PM5K catalogue, it showed his willingness to follow a musical muse, whatever the style, and it’s succinct and vinyl friendly half hour playing time ensured there was no obvious filler.

Four years on, ‘Abandon Ship’ marks a great return for Spider One and his sci-fi obsessed cohorts. Opening with a siren-like guitar set against a very industrial rhythm, ‘Invisible Man’ reintroduces the band with a brilliantly punchy sound. Stoking up the rhythm guitars, the track takes on a very mechanical base, sounding like older PM5K work, only much sharper, and the way the riffs occasionally subside to allow Spider room to bark an almost mantra inspired vocal is very effective, since it makes any sharp edges seem even more direct. Switching to a slow, almost sludgy riff for the middle eight, the band present one of their absolute heaviest riffs to date, creating a fantastic first impression. With the title used as a repetitive hook – in keeping with a lot of previous PM5K tracks – this is really catchy. What’s more, it isn’t just a welcome return; it’s pretty much flawless – a number which brings the heart of the band’s familiar sound up to date with a genuine enthusiasm. Lead single ‘1999’ retains the grubby guitar sound, but cranks up the mechanised elements courtesy of a hard edged, programmed rhythm that’s more in keeping with some of Spider One’s beloved new wave acts. With a strong pop melody cutting through the chopping guitar riffs, this is a perfect companion to the hybrid sound which drove ‘Copies, Clones & Replicants’, and with lyrics which reference The Cars via the PM5K cover of ‘Good Times Roll’ (released in 1999) and Spice Girls ‘Wannabe’, it comes with a very knowing wink which makes everything all the more fun. It’s easy to hear why this was chosen as the lead single and a signifier of things to come: it has a classic Powerman sound; the fusion of styles is delivered effortlessly, and the main hook is as catchy as hell. It’s definitely one of 2024’s best rock singles, and as part of this enjoyable album, a solid reminder of Spider’s quirkier melodic charms.

Taking the mood down very slightly, ‘Places For People That Scream’ opens with a deep drone, but soon launches into a mid tempo groove that’s heavy on the lower registers, whist still conveying a strong inspiration from old sounding new wave. With a moody vocal to suit, this track isn’t quite so immediate, but by the time Spider loses himself in a deep-voiced chorus set against a chugging groove, it eventually becomes solid Powerman fare. Much more direct, ‘Bloodsuckers’ applies a driving rhythm beneath a semi-spoken vocal and gradually builds tension until, eventually, the band explodes in a riff laden piece of industrial metal where the abrasive edges of the music are matched perfectly with an expletive driven hook that could’ve been pulled from any point in the band’s history. Stylistically from the tried and tested mould it may be, but in many ways, the over familiar approach makes it classic PM5K. In terms of attitude, it’s a number that’s rivalled by the equally sweary ‘GTFO’, where Spider’s best moody drawl is set against a really grubby rhythm guitar part that powers against a huge stomping beat on the verse, and adds a very dirty texture to a danceable mood on an even heavier chorus. This could’ve been another predictable Powerman tune, but a siren-like lead guitar cuts through the hard edged riff, lending the arrangement a very different tone that brings a little more of a bombastic quality.

The siren-esque noise also cuts through the intro of ‘Dancing Like We’re Dead’ – and is used effectively to bridge the track’s verses – but beyond that, this track takes on a business-like approach, sounding not unlike many of the tracks from ‘Copies, Clones…’ with a bigger focus on a mechanical groove and synthesized undertone. As with ‘Bloodsuckers’, it’s the familiarity that makes it great, and the interplay between the synth and the hard edged drum sound bring an energy to the piece that’s just perfect for Spider One’s slightly lax vocal. For the committed fan, this is the kind of track that only needs to be spun a couple of times before the simple hook really begins to embed itself, and the buoyant ‘Wake Up Take Up Space’, which swiftly follows, keeps up the album’s momentum with a jaunty, rhythm heavy workout and a repetitive hook that rivals your average Rob Zombie tune for the amount of yeahs packed into a square inch. With a perfect blend of hard edges, fuzzy guitars and a hook designed to uplift with ease, this is easily another album highlight.

It’s safe to say that rock fans who’ve taken the long journey with Spider since the late 90s will find more than enough merit in this album. It takes the best bits of previous work and mixes those moods with enough of a new slant, giving the feeling that the band still feels plenty of excitement in their endeavours. That’s certainly a step up from his older brother’s catalogue, which – despite getting far more positive press attention, at least in the UK – has seen Rob Zombie hacking out variants of the same record for what feels like forever. PM5K are rarely cited by anyone as an all-time favourite band but, some thirty years into a career, this record shows why they’re an underrated part of the rock scene. With the kind of vitality that few veteran bands can muster, and at least six unmissable tunes, ‘Abandon Ship’ doesn’t quite match ‘Tonight The Stars Revolt’ for consistency, but it’s definitely up there with the very best of the rest of the Powerman catalogue.

April 2024