Each week, Frequency Rotation examines a different song with a speculative-fiction theme. Genre, musical quality, and overall seriousness may vary.
In the acknowledgements of China Miéville’s new novel, Kraken, the author lists a handful of literary influences including William Hope Hodgson, H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne. No surprises there. But nestled among those hallowed names is a far less obvious inspiration: the late British band Pop Will Eat Itself.
Miéville also drops a mention of PWEI halfway through the book, but by that point, the reference makes total sense. Kraken reads like a scrambled, rabid mashup of just about every genre trope and strain of metaphysical esoterica that Miéville has ever worked into his books, from the London underbelly of King Rat to the aquatic mythology of The Scar to the police procedural of The City & The City.
Likewise, Pop Will Eat Itself’s 1989 opus, This is the Day… This is the Hour… This is This!, is a writhing pile of punk, rap, samples, and geek-culture references. Most of those references are packed into one song, the album’s hit single “Can U Dig It?” which name-drops everything from The Twilight Zone to V for Vendetta. But it’s one of the album’s deeper cuts, “Inject Me,” that really taps into the heart of PWEI’s science-fiction obsession.
Rather than a random eruption of references like “Can U Dig It”, though, “Inject Me” is a sustained narrative that’s as interstitially shady as it is plain creepy. At first, the song seems like the first-person reverie of some slacker junkie: “I’m the boy without a soul / No hot love, no worldly goal / Inject me, inject me / Cut the lights and shut the doors / Use, abuse, take me I’m yours / Inject me, inject me,” sings PWEI frontman Clint Mansell in an eerie near-whisper over a slinky beat sampled from Funkadelic’s “Good Old Music” (as filtered through The Jungle Brothers’ “Jimbrowski”).
But when the verse kicks in, Mansell’s voice becomes sharper and more paranoid. “I’ve no ambition and no direction / I drift offworld to avoid detection,” he sings as if he were a doped-up, near-future antihero in a Philip K. Dick book, then adds, “I can fly as high as the sky, I am sci-fi / You care to say hi, I say bye-bye / My positronic ray will blast the day away / And keep you all at bay, so be warned.” It’s unclear whether the whole SF scenario is happening only in the narrator’s addled brainpan. But the Asimov reference and bleak, narco-apocalyptic atmosphere make “Inject Me” a mini-masterpiece of dystopic funk and inner-space horror.
After hopping on the rave bandwagon with Cure for Sanity and going for a heavier, more industrial sound on the Trent Reznor-championed Dos Dedos Mes Amigos, PWEI broke up in 1996. Mansell put his money where his mouth is and went on to score SF films, including Duncan Jones’ Moon and Darren Aranofsky’s Pi and The Fountain—not to mention Aranofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, a movie whose brooding, oppressive drugscape could have readily accommodated a snippet or two of “Inject Me.” Now if someone would just get around to adapting one of Miéville’s books for Mansell to score…
Jason Heller writes for The A.V. Club, is working on a novel, and wishes he still had the tour shirt he bought when he saw Pop Will Eat Itself play at Rock Island in Denver in 1989.