Review: Italia 90 – Living Human Treasure

Artwork for Italia 90's 2023 album Living Human Treasure

Italia 90 are doing it their way on Living Human Treasure.

What’s in a name?

In abstract, Italia 90 sound like they’re a bunch of cheery teenage lads from Walsall who play mostly Stone Roses covers. That couldn’t be much further from the truth however.

Formed in 2016, south coast exiles Les Miserable (vocals), Unusual Prices (guitars), J Dangerous (drums) and bassist Bobby Portrait are now residents of south London and make noisy, in-your-face post punk with a large side serving of Realpolitik.

They’re not really here to be your mates either, dismissing what they see as little more than sloganeering from other bands, with Les positing: ‘If you actually boil down what they’re saying it’s basically like, ‘Don’t be an arsehole, don’t be a racist, don’t be from the home counties! That’s not a political opinion.’

If this provocative hubris recalls punk’s obsession with values that eventually became as orthodox as the old status quo, it’s as well that Living Human Treasure is also as exciting as it is caustic.

This is despite the quartet previously evolving at an almost buzz-killing pace, only recording in the past when time and money allowed.

It’s a timeline that would kill most outfits, but the stop-start mechanic has in turn given these childhood friends a grown-up perspective on their cult status.

This time though the process was different, with a full week booked in a residential studio. They were done in two days, but productively spent their free time using found instruments to shape material already drawing on newly blended influences such as goth rock and jungle.

What came out of the experience was a mix of old and new, with the inclusion of tracks going as far back as their first EP being completely re-recorded.

Thudding opener Cut (which, whisper it quietly, does resemble the sort of out-of-the-blocks statement Idles are quite fond of) broods powerfully, whilst Magdalene is twisted, skronking funk, the sound of nightmares.

Simply put, the band have said they felt that the earlier work deserved inclusion on merit – and they’re right. The best snap at the false optimism of modern working life in differing tones, New Factory is a darting new wave tune that sounds almost alien-ly pop, whilst Competition is harder edged, with Miserable repeating the mantra, ‘Freedom to choose/Freedom to lose’, over a blizzard of fx-pedal distortion.

Patterns and grooves here are for temporary use only. The MUMSNET Mambo eviscerates the shallowness of opinion formers but with a jazzy backbeat and cello, whilst Does He Dream is a psychedelic marching song that feels out of its own head.

Amongst the flip-flopping there are grains of other noise – for instance on Golgotha, which has the sonic heft of Gilla Band, whilst there are also sprinkled echoes of vintage anarcho-punk and elsewhere Drunk Tank Pink-era Shame.

But whether it’s intentional or not this is a group at their most effective when applying a lens to things reflecting back stuff they don’t believe in.

Not a diss and addressed at nobody in particular (they say), fulfilling that in tandem are the wonderfully screeching Leisure Activities and its chum Tales From Beyond, the latter a scratchily frustrated diatribe on self-awareness aimed at, ‘Part time radicals with nothing to lose/Re-educate, un-learn, rinse and re-use’.

Modern life has reduced almost all words to soup, to the point where they’re meaningless and mostly interchangeable. Nothing’s in a name either, but Italia 90 are subversives their way and Living Human Treasure is a record on which they like to confound as well as confront.

You might like it under your skin.

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