Learning to Cope with Cowardice album cover
Learning to Cope with Cowardice

Mark Stewart & The Maffia

On-U Sound

Released in 1982, after the dissolution of postpunk/free-jazz/dub anarchists the Pop Group, vocalist Mark Stewart’s first album under his own name is a nerve-jangling collection of tracks that seem designed to disorient and unsettle the listener. His lyrics are dub-poetry-style rants about economic insecurity and how it fuels apathy and political disengagement, and the music owes a fair amount to jazz and reggae, including some surprisingly slick saxophone and female backing vocals (all uncredited) on “Liberty City.” Track titles like “None Dare Call It Conspiracy,” “The Paranoia Of Power,” and “Don’t Ever Lay Down Your Arms” posit endless conflict, but “Blessed Are Those Who Struggle” and the concluding, dubbed-out dramatic recitation of William Blake’s “Jerusalem” give the impression Stewart has at least some hope, even if it manifests as a mythical vision of a better England than the one in which he lives.

Phil Freeman

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