Following on from a three year dry spell after their debut album Miniature World, Phobophobes return with a second LP Modern Medicine — a formulaic repeat that leaves much to be desired.
Emerging amongst the buzz of Brixton’s infamous Windmill venue alongside peers such as Goat Girl and Shame, Phobophobes represent an era in British music that is beloved by many. But, as Modern Medicine demonstrates, this era is now a bygone one, oversaturated with identical bands and unoriginal ideas. Despite excellent production that allows what few instrumental intricacies there are here to shine through, this album still fails to evade mediocrity. Modern Medicine signals the insecurities of clichéd ‘post-punk’, and how for the South London scene the end could well be nigh.
The first half kicks off relatively well, with a few gems such as ‘Moustache Mike’ and ‘Blind Muscle’. The emotive single ‘I Mean It All’ is also striking, with a tear-jerker chorus that is laced with harmony uncharacteristic of Phobophobes. In fact, the vocals are where things start to get interesting for this band. With an Ian Dury-esque charisma, the lead singer brings charm and some interesting, although at times incoherently ridiculous, lyrics: ‘The teachers and preachers and preaching and teaching “forget the next generation game”’.
It is in the second half, however, that it becomes obvious the boundaries to which Phobophobes seem to have subjected themselves. The inevitable cowbell that is introduced without precedent reminds us that Phobophobes belong to a cliché of “no- wave” inspired art rock emanating from the Windmill that has, frankly, run its course. Not alone in this tragic flaw, Modern Medicine illuminates how the diversity of London’s band scene is a mere façade; everyone is mimicking each other behind a veil of originality. It sets itself against the “mainstream” and its so-called “sell out” tendencies, but fails to dodge the relentless drag of trend. There is no originality here.
If it wasn’t for Fat White Family already existing, there might be something exciting about some miserable looking yuppies singing about Macbooks and avocados in some sort of self-aware social critique. Unfortunately, however, the world has changed since 2018, and no longer are guitars and organs necessarily interesting. Now, in order to rescue yourself from the ever-present threat of obscurity, you have to change it up. Phobophobes had something going with earlier singles ‘The Never Never’ and ‘Human Baby’, but Modern Medicine fails to push the envelope nearly enough.
Modern Medicine is out now on all platforms and you can listen to it here