On paper, The Pop Group’s fourth full-length, Honeymoon On Mars, seems like a nuclear explosion. The U.K. post-punk annihilators worked with Dennis Bovell, who also produced their groundbreaking 1979 debut, Y, and Hank Shocklee of The Bomb Squad, the production team behind Public Enemy’s most incisive, exciting work. Frontman Mark Stewart, meanwhile, calls the album “a stand against manufactured hate, a hypersonic journey into a dystopian future full of alien encounters and sci-fi lullabies.” In reality, however, Honeymoon On Mars lacks the ferocity and danger intrinsic to both The Pop Group’s early work and its most recent album, 2015’s Citizen Zombie.
That’s mainly due to the album’s unfocused arrangements. “Instant Halo” never finds a groove despite lit-fuse programming, soaring orchestral synths, and stabbing riffs, while “Michael 13” is a disorganized pile of off-key vocals, icy keyboards, and static-coated effects. “Pure Ones” devolves into a plodding heap of wordless yowling and knotty percussive rhythms, and the sparse, trip-hop–influenced “Days Like These” sounds like an unsteady, half-finished demo. The Pop Group’s ability to update its sound with modern techniques and technology is admirable. Unfortunately, Honeymoon On Mars isn’t quite sure how to wrangle this music effectively, meaning songs too often come across as boring rather than innovative.
Thankfully, there are a few glimpses of snarling urgency on the album. Highlight “Zipperface” is all dub-dance electro-beats, ghostly vocals, and futuristic paranoia, with sharp references to “hush money” and shadowy figures who “enslaved” minds. And two of Shocklee’s productions possess welcome bite. Metallic funk guitars and disco-punk grooves give “City Of Eyes” a slo-mo destruction vibe. On “Burn Your Flag,” meanwhile, siren-like squeals and corrugated rhythmic gouges match the song’s inferno imagery and Stewart’s menacing, spoken-word delivery.
These songs find The Pop Group sounding downright fired up to fight corruption and injustices. However, on most of Honeymoon On Mars, the band seems resigned to the apocalypse and modern society’s devolution, resulting in a shockingly limp record overflowing with empty bluster.