One of the pioneers and extremely left-field bands of the already off-the-wall post punk genre, The Pop Group, has rebanded 35 years after releasing their second album, “For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?” There are always worries that bands have “lost it” over the years, but post-punk seems to be immune to this affliction with artists like Public Image Ltd., The Fall and Gang of Four still trudging along and coming out with solid albums.
The Pop Group’s reintroduction to the music world, “Citizen Zombie,” could definitely be seen this way. The new album has little of what their first two albums offered: chaos, cathartic shrieks and disconcertingly layered instruments that still managed to be catchy and groovy despite the avant-garde overtones. However, I would move that “Citizen Zombie”—while a move away from a sound of theirs that I prefer—is not so much The Pop Group losing their musical element, but rather changing it.
“Citizen Zombie,” although it can be a disappointment to fans of their earlier work who expect a revival of their old sound, is still a great album when taken into its own right. The album follows more traditional post-punk song structures of bands like Public Image Ltd. and Pere Ubu, while falling into experimental interludes that hint back to their earlier sound.
Singer Mark Stewart falls back onto a lighter vocal style than what we heard on earlier albums like “Y” and “How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?” wherein he assaults his voice with effects while his voice reciprocates against the delay and reverb pedals with harsh shrieks and vocalizations. Unfortunately, Stewart is no longer in his twenties so I imagine that this is a lot more difficult for him to do these days.
This by no means suggests he cannot sing anymore. In fact, the vocals are fantastic and Stewart still goes all out on tracks like “St. Outrageous.” There is a quality of Stewart’s singing on this that sounds very similar to Pere Ubu’s vocalist, David Thomas. While this certainly is not a bad thing in terms of the musical outcome, The Pop Group loses a bit of their identity due to the similarity. If someone showed me this album and told me it was the new Pere Ubu album, I would believe them. I’ve even accidentally referred to the album as “the new Pere Ubu album” when discussing it with my fellow post-punk enthusiasts.
With that being said, this album is still very much The Pop Group. They have incorporated more modern technology into their music and it works better than when most older musicians tinker around with these new-fangled devices. The first half of the album is almost something you can dance to even if you’re not invested in the genre. The second half moves on to a darker vibe, with tracks like “Nations” flowing through with a fast paced beat and keys while Stewart joins in, chanting a chilling and intimidating message.
We still have the layered sound that The Pop Group is known for, but instead of pulling it out and waving it in your face on the first listen, “Citizen Zombie” waits until the third or so listen like a respectable album to reveal the intricacies and complexities within the music. On first listen, I was disillusioned by how the group had changed their earlier insane sound, but I moved on from that disappointment quickly by taking this record for what it is: a brilliant post-punk record.
Published February 25th, 2015