The Book of Exodus provides the starting point for this inspired collection of ten songs based on the plagues sent to bother the Old Testament Egyptians. Commissioned by the British art facilitators Artangel – part of a larger event based in the dilapidated seaside town of Margate that explores issues around identity, migration and even retribution – Plague Songs gathers a luminary cast. Brian Eno and Robert Wyatt, in the latest manifestation of their long working relationship, deliver up a truly revolting plague of flies; Laurie Anderson’s sombre tones present a mournful take on the fifth plague’s cattle slaughter, and Stephin Merritt’s ‘Meaning of Lice’ is a black and itchy pop song, rather like those produced while in his Gothic Archies guise.
The beauty of this audacious project is that songs and their very different soundworlds provide their own narration of journey and difference. It avoids the overly dramatic and Scott Walker’s startling call and response ‘Darkness’ is as histrionic as Plague Songs gets. The surprises come from Imogen Heap’s locust-laden ‘Glittering Crowd’ and the Tiger Lillies’ offering, ‘Hailstones’, a song worthy of Nick Cave’s statuesque desolation. Come to think of it, why isn’t Cave on this?