1 October 2015
The Pop Group - Citizen Zombie
Not so interesting fact, the Pop Group were formed when I was only one year old. What does that have to do with this review I hear you ask, I tell you what it has to do with it - fuck all! Just something I found out when I was researching for the review, but anyway let’s do a little bit of history and why I have picked this up. Coming from Bristol The Pop Group currently consist of Mark Wright (vocals/lyrics), Gareth Sager (guitars), Dan Catsis (bass) & Bruce Smith (drums/percussion). When they originally formed they were inspired by punk, but not by the finished product so they made their own sound; according to Wikipedia (that fountain of facts), they were originally considered a funk outfit - not too sure about that one (although the bass playing is always spot on), but from listening to their earlier recording, I found it to be post-punk with a hint of new wave, avant-garde and dub thrown in the mix. Their original career was very short, they split up only after four years in 1981 after two studio albums; but in 2010 they reformed and have been threatening to release a new album. Earlier this year, they finally unleashed their third studio album in February; I have been taking my time with this one as it is one I do not want to make a knee jerk reaction with - these guys were important to me and I wanted to give the album time to settle. Also, anyone that releases a split single with Sleaford Mods are fucking heroes in my book. So after a little delay, it is time to see what 'Citizen Zombie' has to offer.....
Opening this album is the title track "Citizen Zombie", the good number from the beginning is that the Pop Group have not grown old gracefully; the fire that burnt so brightly in those brief four years in the late 70's/early 80's is still burning brightly. Cursing the modern world and the sheep-like nature of the world, "Citizen Zombie" sounds as if the nightmare is not just forming - it is already here and we are all basically fucked. The heavy bass drops like concert hits the floor, but when it is not required it is as gentle as a light breeze; the guitars are on fire, the percussion/drums is pulsing and the vocals are as harrowing as always. Second track "Mad Truth" starts off with some high keyboards, a guitar sound that is truly timeless and this love/protest song is unleashed onto the public with sensibility that sounds as good as anything from their previous work. The song sounds like a mix of their own mixing pot of musical creativity, a dash of 'Station to Station' production values and some Little Comets also added (or the Little Comets took some of their sound from these guys, which is the more likely explanation). You can listen to it on a musical level and it would be brilliant music for any time you can think of, then the lyrical output that is laced over the song. A tale of those thousand stories and loves, the words about taking a stand, the fight for freedom - all of it makes this another beautiful number from the Pop Group. Following on is "Nowhere Girl" and the avant-garde/pop comes to the forefront on this song. I love the contrasts to the music, there is this lovely dream-pop pieces and some beautiful post-punk lurking beneath the skin of the song which is waiting for the opportunity to break through the surface. It is a number that bring Frank Zappa to mind, which (for me and my Zappa obsessive mind) is a very good think indeed.
"Shadow Child" continues the avant-garde/post punk attack and is the grower of the album. When I first heard the song, I had no connection to it at all; it just seemed to be a bit too hollow for me for the first few listens, but over repeated listens there are little hooks that form in the song that snare it to the mind. It sounds a bit like a nightmare in places, with the streaming repetitive narrative going on through the song. It also has a dark 80's vibe going on - not the be confused with the tripe that gets regularly pulled out as the example of 80's music, it just has some of those production values which gives certain music that (for want of a better word) 80's sheen. Give this song time, it will make its mark on you - I guarantee it. "The Immaculate Deception" is beautiful for all the wrong reasons, it is a wonderful song about the great lie that we are all told on a regular basis. In this day and age the greater public is still being confused with lies, propaganda and distraction so that they can make their profit and power on the bones of humanity. The music is contrasts and shades of lights, the words are incredibly powerful and that is why it is beautiful for all the wrong reasons - it is wrong that this song is needed, but it is beautiful all the same. "s.o.p.h.i.a." is another song that took a while to get under my skin, which is usually a sign that I will end up loving more than air a little further down the line. Introduced in feedback, it starts off with a swirling mist of music that forms into a New Wave piece that is both retro and modern. It love it when pieces sound timeless and this song has that feeling, it is very hypnotic and keeps on gives with subsequent listens. So what is in "Box 9"? That is the main question of the next song and it is a song that I have not settled on. Depending on the mood I either love it or I cannot wait for it to finish, it sounds like a carnival is going through the album at this point and either you are total into it - or it just passes you by. An interest song, but still confusing after all of these months.
"Nations" on the other hand - this is the song of the album. A damning condemnation of the modern age, this is hymn to the self-service destructive nature of the world where we are giving up our own freedoms and rights to be left alone on our couches with our high-vis leisurewear. With a minimal musical accompaniment, the lyrics are given the centre stage of the song. It a fierce and powerful statement, well played sirs - well played. After this work of genius, a scream introduces "St. Outrageous" into the void. This heavy bass, slow crunching number is a fascinating piece of music that stomps over the listener like a marching band. It is attention grabbing number that brings a lot of energy to the album (not that it was missing in the first place), it really goes for broke and wins. The penultimate number is called "Age of Miracles" which has a heavy dub feeling about it, the words about stumbling and questions if we are Gods is laced over a diverse song that floats around the rhythm section of the band. I love that it sometimes feels very minimal and then it has a very complex piece of music happening around the lyrics - it is songs that make my world an interesting place. Ending the album is "Echelon" and it is back on the avante-grade/pop, mixed into a macabre and mournful overtone to end this album. With time fading for the record, it all comes to an end with this number that sounds as if someone is trying to fix the broken pieces of paradise after it was broken. It is hauntingly fragile and a perfect way to end this record.
After a flame burnt so quickly, it can sometimes be a bad idea to revisit those former glories and try to create something new (see most of the career of Kiss); 'Citizen Zombie' bucks that trend with a flare and grace that is hard to replicate, it sounds timeless, fierce and uncompromising as always from the Pop Group. Not one iota of ground is given up by the band and I would not have it any other way to be honest. The more I have listened to the record, the more I have appreciated the effort and work that has gone into this record. A worthy follow on to the original releases, sorry it took so long to review.
8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart
Top track - Nations
You can purchase Citizen Zombie on Amazon here
You can visit The Pop Group website here - where there is a brilliant webstore and you can purchase directly from the band (also get their split single with Sleaford Mods)
You can follow their activities on Facebook here
You can stream Citizen Zombie on Soundcloud here
You can stream Citizen Zombie on Spotify here
You can stream Citizen Zombie on Deezer here
You can stream Citizen Zombie on Tidal here
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