Personnel: Mark Stewart (vocals); Paul Epworth (guitar, background vocals); Gareth Sager (guitars, horns, keyboards); Pete Wareham (tenor saxophone); Dan Catsis (bass guitar); Bruce Smith (drums); Nathan Jenkins (programming); Chiara Meattelli, Kate Rodd, Isla Rainforth, Skip McDonald (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Matt Wiggins.
Recording information: Apollo Control; Church Studios; On-U Studios.
In their first iteration, the Pop Group were among the more ravenous and raging post-punk acts, popping up in 1977 as a bunch of Bristol teens hellbent on tearing apart the conventions of even the very young punk rock movement with their ugly, deconstructive mesh of influences. Both violent and sublime, the Pop Group made only a handful of recordings before breaking up in 1981, but innovative tracks of theirs like the wild dub punk of "We Are Time" and the screaming funk of "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" would inspire new crops of artists for decades to come. Citizen Zombie marks the first collection of new material from the band in over 30 years, following a reunion in 2010 that saw a largely original lineup of the band performing and writing new songs again. While the raw intensity of their early days could never be completely captured, it's shocking how similar to their younger selves the Pop Group sound here. Likewise, working with producer Paul Epworth -- known for his work with polished radio acts like Adele and Cee Lo Green -- isn't the most D.I.Y. approach, but railing against the expected is standard business for the Pop Group. The buzzsaw bass groove and ranting, distorted vocals of the album-opening title track feel a bit reserved at first, but by second track "Mad Truth" the band taps into some of its unique funk-punk hybrid sound for a slinky slab of Bowie-esque disco that's equal parts sophisticated and gnarled. "Nowhere Girl" almost sounds like some kind of melodic pop but quickly becomes too fragmented and blown-out to pass for anything even remotely normal, with alternating waves of distortion and synthesizer blurts battling for space in the song's bizarre mix. "St. Outrageous" is ugly and rocking, bordering on industrial at times, while the speedy drum machine pulse and manic spoken word diatribe of "Nations" wind the best of the Fall, Faust, and Suicide into a terrifying three-minute package. While there's nothing here quite as life-altering or immediate as the earliest Pop Group tracks, it isn't so much a lesser version of what came before as it is a delayed continuation. Even decades later, these thinking punks are on a different trip than anyone else. Citizen Zombie sidesteps the pitfalls of having to live up to former glories by disregarding them altogether and reaching instead for new, weird heights. ~ Fred Thomas