Drawing upon influences as disparate as George Clinton, avant-garde minimalist Steve Reich and dub maestro King Tubby, The Pop Group’s 1979 debut Y, and its bellicose follow-up How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, are rightly regarded as two of the post-punk era’s most groundbreaking slabs of vinyl. The provocative Bristolians split in 1981, but reformed in 2010 and, despite persistent rumours of imminent new recordings, have dithered over a new LP. Consequently, their long-delayed third, Citizen Zombie, finally arrives after two simultaneously released archival sets: the reissued We Are Time and a revelatory rarities collection, Cabinet Of Curiosities.
In their first iteration, the Pop Group were among the more ravenous and raging post-punk acts, popping up in 1977 as a bunch of Bristol teens hellbent on tearing apart the conventions of even the very young punk rock movement with their ugly, deconstructive mesh of influences. Both violent and sublime, the Pop Group made only a handful of recordings before breaking up in 1981, but innovative tracks of theirs like the wild dub punk of "We Are Time" and the screaming funk of "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" would inspire new crops of artists for decades to come. Citizen Zombie marks the first collection of new material from the band in over 30 years, following a reunion in 2010 that saw a largely original lineup of the band performing and writing new songs again.
From the cover of the first Pop Group album in 35 years leers old Lord Kitchener, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday. But does he still want you after all this time, or is he now pointing his finger in scolding accusation? Out of place across multiple generations, stripped of any supposedly ennobling patriotic war effort to back him, he looks more likely out to get you than anything else. “Out here on the perimeter nobody can hear you scream / Ah la-la la-la la-la la / A dictator’s wet dream”, taunts the title track.
Legendary post-punk band The Pop Group have always been a far more difficult proposition than their name would suggest. After blazing a trail in the late 70s with classic debut album ‘Y’ a record cited by St Vincent amongst others as a key influence, as well as their fierce political convictions The Pop Group lay dormant until reforming with the original line up in 2010. These post-punk radicals were not content with merely trawling the nostalgia circuit though and have returned with ’Citizen Zombie’ their first album since 1981.
The most political of the post-punk bands reunite here for their first album in 35 years with A-list producer and super-fan Paul Epworth (Adele). To 21st-century ears, titles like Citizen Zombie or The Immaculate Deception will sound like dated agitpop from another era. And to some extent these songs are just that: accurate takedowns of the state of things set to backings that, as of old, draw from funk, dub and jazz.
1970s Bristol punk-funk pioneers the Pop Group influenced countless artists, as disparate as Nick Cave and Shane MacGowan, Happy Mondays and the Rapture. After unexpectedly reforming in 2010, the post-punk provocateurs’ studio return in some ways picks up where they left off. Mark Stewart’s megaphone bellow urges a “call to arms” and threatens “We are legion, for we are strong”, while the band’s white funk rages around him with the social niceties of a jackhammer.
Fittingly, The Pop Group’s return to recording after over three decades opens with a strangled scream. In their post-punk pomp, when contemporaries like Public Image Ltd and This Heat respectively clawed away at the skin and drilled away at the foundations of the popular song, Pop Group lead singer Mark Stewart seemed intent on the screaming the life out of it. Songs survived the barrage, reconstructed and reinvigorated rather than deconstructed and destroyed by those interventions.
"Citizen Zombie", the first single in nearly thirty-five years by the Bristol post-punk band the Pop Group, opens with a blast of abrasive industrial static, which grows louder and wirier as it surges into the martial stomp of the song’s chorus. Bruce Smith’s guitar traces sharp, barbed pendulum arcs as synths blaze like welding torches, and Dan Catsis’s bass scours the low end, as though attempting to dig its way out. Over the assembly-line clangor, the familiar atonal caterwaul of Pop Group mainstay Mark Stewart rings out.
Often cited as pioneers of the late-’70s and early-’80s post-punk scene, The Pop Group emerged from the U.K. in 1977; its artistic peak occurred during the early days of the Thatcher administration, her politics providing the kindle for the cantankerous act’s formidable powder keg. The band bristled with a kinetic verve, with tracks such as the epochal “We Are All Prostitutes” and “She Is Beyond Good And Evil” providing a no-wave blueprint mined by myriad acts, including The Birthday Party, Minutemen, Sonic Youth, and Swans.
In the race to field the biggest gap between new records, the Pop Group may have everybody else beat: it’s been 35 years since the release of its LP We Are Time (recently reissued and covered here). It goes without saying that Citizen Zombie won’t sound exactly like the influential postpunk band did in its late 70s glory – too much time has passed for that. Yet in its own way, the LP picks up where the Group left off – like the Clash’s Combat Rock, it represents a musical evolution while keeping the same spirit.
Who would have expected The Pop Group to be back, 35 years after they released their last new material? And who would have thought that this first EP in over a quarter of a century would also be produced by Paul Epworth – that’s right, the same guy who helped craft successes for Adele, Bloc Party and even Sir Macca himself? Although, considering how their cult status has been enshrined by artists like St. Vincent professing their love for them, perhaps it’s a little less surprising than you might anticipate. The thing about cult status, though, is that you then kind of have to stay...
The Pop Group Citizen Zombie (Freaks R Us) Liberated by the Sex Pistols, some late-Seventies Brits felt three-chord punk was too limiting. They became post-punk, generally the most pissed-off dance music you heard, with an odd cerebral bent and an even further turn to leftist politics. Announced with 1979's gorgeous single "She's Beyond Good and Evil," the beautifully misnamed Pop Group might have been the most romantic of the lot, self-mythologized by singer Gareth Sager as "teenage Rimbauds" in Jon Savage's definitive text England's Dreaming.