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.
‘Citizen Zombie’ is the sound of The Pop Group both like you remember them and distorted almost beyond recognition. Recorded with super producer Paul Epworth, a man more recently used to working with chart striding superstars, the album sees the band retain all of their trailblazing characteristics while beefing up the sound and production.
One of the key aspects of The Pop Group in their prime was their impressive musicianship and that carries on again with the rhythm section of Dan Catsis and Bruce Smith aided by the wildly inventive guitar squalls of Gareth Sager. Of course, it’s the slightly unhinged vocals and stream of consciousness diatribes of singer Mark Stewart that provide the public and very angry face of The Pop Group. His voice twists, contorts and spits all over eleven tracks that outline the many social and political ills of 21st century society. At times, it can get a bit much but the spirit of The Pop Group was always to make you slightly uncomfortable.
There are moments of real urgency and fierce aggression here as well as some genuine pop melodies. ’Mad Truth’’s louche tropicalia is engaging while the twisted funk of ’Shadow Child’ is as good as anything they’ve ever done. Elsewhere, the yearning cries of ’Nowhere Girl’ have an emotional core that is truly affecting.
It’s to be expected that a band of such strong political convictions as The Pop Group would address the ills of contemporary society. However, on moments like ’Nations’, where Stewart’s invective about “couch potatoes” and “the ultimate game show” meet a crude rudimentary techno beat it all becomes overpowering and loses the effect. It’s a danger that ‘Citizen Zombie’ veers perilously close to but more often than not overcomes.
It would be difficult for any band to return with new music after 35 years of absence but with ’Citizen Zombie’ the always challenging Pop Group have succeeded in returning with something vibrant, urgent and necessary.