Formed in Bristol, UK back in 1977 The Pop Group have long been regarded as the shape shifting shadow-men at the dawn of the post-punk revolution, their wide ranging aural forays taking in such disparate influences as funk, free jazz, art punk and dub. Like many true musical innovators, their appeal has tended to be more of an esoteric nature, even though their moniker is often strangely apt, in a twisted, subversive kind of way.
After initially disbanding just four years after detonating onto the musical landscape, the band resurfaced in 2010 with fire in their bellies rather than dollar signs in their eyes, issuing the following statement on their unexpected reformation…”There was a lot left undone,….we were so young and volatile….Let’s face it, things are probably even more fucked now than they were in the early 80’s…..and we are even more fucked off!”
Fighting words indeed, and as we fast forward five years, 2015 sees The Pop Group unveil brand new recorded material for the first time in 35 years in the form of their fourth album, Citizen Zombie, with current hot-shot producer Paul Epworth (whose cv includes Bloc Party, Adele and Crystal Castles) at the helm. And with artists of the calibre of Nick Cave and Mike Watt quoting the band as an important influence, does 2015 see the band back up the aforementioned statement of intent and still sound relevant, cutting edge and original? You betcha!!
Lead off single The Mad Truth, the clip for which was directed by none other than Italian director/actress Asia Argento, charters musical terrain not too dissimilar to latter period Clash track The Magnificent Seven, riding a funky, bass driven groove as singer Mark Stewart broadcasts on the state of play today… “sister freedom, the future’s in your hands.” The subversively funky vibe of the track is also in evidence on the tracks s.o.p.h.i.a and Box 9.
Title track Citizen Zombie displays all the famed hallmarks of the band’s signature work, with woozy dub like effects married to an ominous, post-punk/industrial soundscape, the song twisting, turning and taking a number of left turns along the way. The band sound as relevant and year zero as they ever have, a soundtrack to the apocalypse of the now-times…
The Immaculate Deception is a head spinning array of electro-funk, heavy, tribal like drumming and serrated art punk menace, vocals teetering on the edge of paranoia. And as with a number of tracks on the album, a subversive sing-along quotient sweetens the deal…and therein lies the essential beauty of these musical alchemists; delivering challenging sounds while still managing to be catchy – head music you can dance to!
Nations is surely one of the album’s defining moments, an urgently pulsing, electro-fueled number interjected with skeletal guitar stabs, robo-percussion and married to a spoken word style narrative, singer Mark Stewart rallying against the “barbarians at the gate”, a personal and political sermon on the current state of play…think of it maybe as a 2015 counterpoint to Ewan McGregor’s Choose Life rant from the movie Trainspotting.
In the hands of lesser mortals a complex amalgam of stop-start rhythms, jarring sound interjections and howled slogans married to or co-existing alongside choppily catchy funk, dub art punk, and yes, pop, would run the risk of being an unpalatable hodge-podge. The genius of The Pop Group is their ability to incorporate such disparate elements into an ear pleasing oeuvre for hearts, minds and dancefloors…It’s great to have them back!!
Citizen Zombie by The Pop Group is out 27 February.