The Pop Group - CITIZEN ZOMBIE

by Rob Taylor Rating:9 Release Date:2015-02-23

Nick Cave travelled to London in 1980 in search of a fervent punk scene, which by all accounts was actually in decline by that time. The first concert he attended was a line-up of bands he described as constipated, bloodless pop pap, “like being gang-banged by a pack of marshmallows”. Fortunately for Nick, the next concert featured The Pop Group, a band that incited and excited him.

Rather than blunting his anarchistic streak, the concert awakened, reinforced and provoked his creativity. In the music presented that night he found an “unholy, manic, violent, paranoid and painful music”, and felt the cogs of his mind shifting and his life changing irreversibly. Anyone exposed to the insurrectionist punk music of The Birthday Party will have all the tangible evidence they need of the severity of impact upon Cave.

As Cave tempered his inner Lucifer so as to enable a wider audience to see into his dark soul, so The Pop Group have with Citizen Zombie undergone a transformation which sees them consolidating their considerable influences, and laying out a sound much more cogent than anything that comes before it. Partly, this is the production of the legendary Paul Epworth, who makes certain that each of The Pop Group’s musical ideas are clearly delineated, and partly its the wealth of musical experience brought to the table by the band members.

Don’t take that to mean that the basic template, or head nod to the diversity of influence has changed. It's just that, being older and wiser, they can wear those influences without irony, and they themselves are now the industry protagonist. The influence had by The Pop Group upon groups such as Rage Against the Machine, Minutemen, possibly even Public Image Limited in their dubier incarnation, is immeasurable.

Some words on the influences on The Pop Group. Their influences have variously been ascribed as Funkadelic; Stooges; John Cage; John Coltrane; Nico; Lee Perry; Stockhausen; Subway Sect; Miles Davis; Captain Beefheart, and King Tubby. It’s instructive digesting those musical differences, because it tells you more about The Pop Group than I can possibly contemplate in my own words. The Pop Group really are a patchwork of styles, but somehow remain within the agit-punk realm in spite of it.

It really comes down to intent. These guys don’t fuck around. They have an agenda and don’t mind pushing it, and to hell with any interjectors. Thirty-five years of quiet has not dampened their social consciousness, and the music itself delivers a bigger jolt because of, rather than in spite of, better production values.

The guitarist Gareth Sager, according to the group, has become “a bit of a Liberace in his dotage”, composing magnum opuses, which the band deconstructed into what you hear on Citizen Zombie. Epworth says he found it a “challenge” working with The Pop Group, but one which he obviously embraced with gusto. Rather than softening the dynamics so essential to the Pop Group sound, he ensured “none of the edges were sanded away”.

The 1980 compilation We Are Time never appealed to be greatly. I found it too caustic, too bludgeoning. On the other hand, the rarities compilation, Cabinet of Curiosities, released last year was a fantastic survey of the band’s capabilities, mostly live, and that’s where their impact is mostly felt. Appearances at All Tomorrows Parties in recent years were, from all reports, a resounding success.

Citizen Zombie is the renewed calling card from a band as relevant today as they were three decades ago.

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