Often cited as pioneers of the late-’70s and early-’80s post-punk scene, The Pop Group emerged from the U.K. in 1977; its artistic peak occurred during the early days of the Thatcher administration, her politics providing the kindle for the cantankerous act’s formidable powder keg. The band bristled with a kinetic verve, with tracks such as the epochal “We Are All Prostitutes” and “She Is Beyond Good And Evil” providing a no-wave blueprint mined by myriad acts, including The Birthday Party, Minutemen, Sonic Youth, and Swans. Remarkably, more than 30 years after the group’s dissolution, it hasn’t lost a step, returning with the superb Citizen Zombie.
The band’s innate chemistry is palpable throughout the album, as frontman Mark Stewart’s vitriolic political bile is complemented adroitly by the act’s classic lineup, composed of bassist Dan Catsis, drummer Bruce Smith, and multi-instrumentalist Gareth Sager. They’re lent a hand by producer Paul Epworth (Primal Scream, The Rapture, Adele), who thankfully never clutters the arrangements. His touches are more than welcome, retaining the act’s signature volatility while lending it a tasteful sheen, enabling it to hit a sweet spot between its nascent days and recent incendiary live shows.
The record kicks off with the braying cacophony of title track “Citizen Zombie,” as Stewart admonishes, “You’ve got that brainwashed look of an alien abductee / Maybe your mind has been wiped clean,” over the abrasive scrape of Sager’s guitar and the clarion wail of a wall of synths, which combine with the lyrics in an effort to rattle the listener to the marrow and compel them to feel something. The staccato surge of “Mad Truth” follows in quick succession, completing a visceral one-two opening salvo, as Stewart urges, “Sister Freedom / It’s time to make a stand.” While Stewart’s proselytizing could easily veer into ham-fisted didactics, it instead inhabits a political zone akin to Dutch contemporaries The Ex and the aforementioned Minutemen, with his message never smothering the gestalt of the band.
Stewart shines on the jittery, Casio drone of “Nations,” which suggests “The Gift” by The Velvet Underground in its detached anomie, as he intones an acid-tongued screed a touch removed from the tagline of Trainspotting: “Choose a fucking big television / Choose a starter home.” The track concludes with Stewart abjectly confessing, “We’re all addicted to something / Money, sex, television…. I was contextualized in relation to these things.” It’s here that Stewart best realizes his manifesto—one of blunt, overarching societal analyses blurring into a technophobia—a conceit eerily similar to the U.K. television series Black Mirror.
The Pop Group has long been ahead of the curve, and Citizen Zombie is commensurate with its early work in both songcraft and self-aware lyricism. The band may castigate the apathy endemic to the masses, but it doesn’t wallow. It instead throbs, bristles, and ultimately galvanizes, vividly documenting what’s been lost in our comfortably numb political complacency while brazenly providing a template for what can be done to re-gain it.