Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Album Review: The Pop Group - Citizen Zombie (2015)

What happens to old punks when they grow up?

Well, if The Gospel According to The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart is to be believed, growing older just means they merely become more passionate and more focused about what they’re doing. And if the music on The Pop Group’s latest offering - the 2015 album Citizen Zombie - is any indication, Old Father Time has done little to dampen or dilute Stewart's all-encompassing sense of rage at the world.

Citizen Zombie is the band’s first studio album for 35 years.

I’ll stop there. And pause for a moment.

35 years! ... Citizen Zombie is The Pop Group’s first set of original “songs” since the acclaimed For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? helped establish a much copied post-punk template way back in 1980.
Ah, 1980: Jimmy Carter was still President of the USA, Margaret Thatcher’s reign of terror in the UK (ahem) had only just started, while mainstream pop culture fiends on both sides of the Atlantic still tended to favour bell-bottoms and platforms over bondage pants and Doc Martens (but not for long). If it hadn’t been for an American boycott of the Moscow Olympics that year, Bruce Jenner (aka Caitlyn) would just as likely have retained his title of “the world’s greatest athlete”. In short, it was a bloody lifetime ago.

The music of The Pop Group (and Stewart in his solo incarnation) has always been a difficult and “challenging” listen, or at the very least something of an acquired taste. Citizen Zombie is no exception.
As a listening experience the album is more than a little unsettling. Not only in terms of subject matter, but also due to the hybrid of styles on offer. And yes, while attempts to “unsettle” or disturb have often accounted for big chunks of The Pop Group's modus operandi, I’m not convinced the music disturbs in quite the way it’s supposed to. It just feels a little too messy and disjointed; take four parts warped electro, three parts industrial grind, two parts agit-funk, before adding a sprinkling of disco fairy dust. Stir vigorously to boil.

Quite a recipe … if you wish to cook up an "acquired taste".

The targets on Citizen Zombie are many and varied. Consumerism, greed, big business, big brother, war, mass media, destruction of the planet, etc. It would take tens of thousands of words to break down and analyse each of these, but Stewart's grievances are all pretty valid, it has to be said. So I'll spare you that part. Be assured, he's passionate and focused, and his delivery remains as abrasive as ever. That part is not in dispute.

On one hand I can very much understand and even appreciate the sentiment behind many of these tunes, yet on the other hand, the album quickly becomes quite hard work, which rather defeats its purpose, because I’m already quite sure I'll not be rushing back to it anytime soon.

Well, not unless I’m armed and ready to fend off the men in white coats when they come knocking at my door.

Highlight: Um, er, perhaps ‘Nations’, if only for the straightforward, less scratchy, spoken word approach. There’s not a lot else here for me I’m afraid.

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