Album Review: The Pop Group, ‘Citizen Zombie’
The legend of the Pop Group looms larger than their actual recorded output. Formed in 1977, their early singles such as "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" and "We Are All Prostitutes" broke new ground in the first wave of post-punk sounds.
Led by vocalist Mark Stewart, the band incorporated elements of dub, funk and jazz alongside a visceral punk rock spirit. Their 1979 debut, Y, has long been held up as a classic of the era and spoken in the same tones as landmark albums like Metal Box by Public Image Ltd. and Entertainment by Gang Of Four.
They released one more album, 1980's For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, after which the band dissolved. Guitarist Gareth Sager went on to form Rip, Rig & Panic, while Stewart had a prolific solo career. All the while, the specter of the Pop Group would always hang overhead and influence the likes of Nick Cave, Primal Scream, and Massive Attack to name a few.
In 2010, the core of the band reunited for a series of live shows, including the prestigious All Tomorrow's Parties Festival in 2013. Fast forward a couple years, and here we have a brand new album from the Pop Group. Citizen Zombie brings the band fully into 2015 while holding that torch of 35 plus years ago in tact.
The album kicks off with the title cut, and it's clear they aren't resting on any laurels. Stewart sounds as genuine and angry as he did on Y. In one sense, the Pop Group are somewhat picking up the story where they left off, but you never get the idea that this is some nostalgia trip. The dark, funk groove ebbs and flows as the jagged guitars of Gareth Sager cut and slice. Stewart's vocals are as passionate and commanding as ever.
"Mad Truth" is upbeat and joyous as he sings "Sister freedom, time to make a stand, the future's in your hands." Songs like "Shadow Child" and "s.o.p.h.i.a" create an anger fueled dance floor propelled by nonstop funk. The production is powerful and aggressive, yet with just enough sheen to make it shine. There are, assuredly, loud echos of the past at play here. If you were told "Box 9" was on an outtake from Y, you wouldn't doubt it for a second. That being said, if you were told Citizen Zombie was a new album by some upstart indie outfit, that is just as easily believable. In other words, a certain timelessness prevails throughout.
On "Nations," talk turns to "deranged victims of consumerism" and ponders, "Maybe nothing surprises us anymore / Maybe nothing is sacred" as he rails against "21st Century rot." "St. Outrageous" could be PiL while "The Age Of Miracles" is almost pop. Album closer "Echelon" shows off a somewhat, dare we say, mellower side to the band and provides a perfect ending.
Title cut aside, this is not and album that instantly grabs you the first time through. it's rewards come after repeated listens as you find yourself immersed in the sonic web they have strewn up. Their reunion was unexpected to begin with and Citizen Zombie even more so. It sits as a perfect companion to their works of the past and goes toe-to-toe in many regards. It's always great to be pleasantly surprised by an album, and even greater when it's the old guard still kicking it with a spirit of fire.