The Pop Group Citizen Zombie Freaks R Us
“I don’t analyse what I do, I just do it,” says The Pop Group frontman Mark Stewart. And unlike most of history’s contrary cavaliers, Stewart’s claims are undisguised and penetratingly sharp. Like a gang of bawdy Dadaists, these anti-musicians held a mirror up against the world, revealing a ticking social time bomb of smut and prolapsing politics. Back in 1977, The Pop Group were a polymorphous sprawl of post-punk-funk who lost themselves in their own dubbed out leftist psychodrama. Stewart himself was like the Kenneth Anger of modern music; no wave before no wave, new wave before the originators had even begun. Disassembling their previous releases, from Y (1979) to the recently reissued We Are Time (1980), you plummet into this manifold of aural disorder. It all sounds like a nightmarish caricature of entertainment that was almost too abstract to support itself. So they disappeared for over three decades only to reemerge again in 2010. Succeeding last year’s rambunctious yet typically self-aware Cabinet of Curiosities compilation, The Pop Group release this, Citizen Zombie, a glorious monstrosity of industrial dub and panicky pop.
Everything about Citizen Zombie is perfectly unreasonable. The nihilistic quiver that molests Stewart’s voice throughout these eleven songs has this deeply traumatising presence. His hysterical recital of activist organisation Anonymous’s mission statement during the opening of Nowhere Girl is equally as satirical as it is rabble rousing. Shadow Child’s primitive Gang of Four guitar clanks chase cheapened drum presets, Stewart oscillates between whisper and carnal yelping. He moans as if lost in the throb of an ever-tightening cock clamp. The discordance of his delivery is purely another tool in dismantling the conventions of art. Oddball synth-pop follows spazzed out funk follows dub follows punk. Box 9 carries as much off-kilter sci-fi capriciousness as Spizzenergi’s desire to change their name. Stewart rambles about technological slavery and “speaking the language of snakes before it’s too late”. Where your garden-variety 70s radical will croak about the capitalist swell of coffee shops in southern England, Stewart’s existential yapping is wholly unique and genuinely divisive.
What remains a drawback to nearly everyone that permits The Pop Group to excite and frustrate them is Stewart’s Daedalean irregularities, splurging one ideology with another movement and this faith with that axiom. It has taken the control and patience of British producer du jour Paul Epworth to piece together Stewart’s primal mess of ideas. Somehow, Epworth melds 11 puzzles that maintain infinite sonic outcomes. The pseudo-calypso picking of Mad Truth transmutes comfortably into the Irvine Welsh-worthy rancour of Nations. What could potentially have resulted in a consumable binge of shouting at walls ends up being some- thing open, ambitious and somehow reluctantly accessible. The Pop Group have this slogan: ‘We’re the explosion at the heart of the commodity.’ Citizen Zombie is the sound of a flare that sparks sporadically, burning cultural preconceptions to cinders. These ballsy Bristolians are just as chaotic and system-defiling today as they were when they first set the world on fire three decades ago.