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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long awaited reissue of classic debut album,
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It is wonderful to see the Pop Group's classic debut album `Y' finally reissued, since it hasn't been very widely available since the 1990s and even then it was as an expensive import (see the similar `We Are All Prostitutes'). As the sleeve notes demonstrate, the Pop Group were different to a lot of their peers - though they are similarly tagged with other post punk associated acts.
In a recent interview surrounding the reissue of Y, Gareth Sager dismissed bands they're associated with from the era, stating that to him Joy Division and Gang of Four (`Gang of Bore' according to him!) were just rehashes of Idiot-Iggy and Dr Feelgood. Listening to `Y', Gang of Four sound very rock compared - `I Found That Essence Rare' kind of proto-U2 and a bit anthemic. The Pop Group aren't very rock at all, while they had relatives in the Slits (at one point sharing a drummer and both bands having their debuts produced by the legendary Dennis Bovell), the latter had a quirky pop element. The Pop Group pursued a minimalist dub sound, influenced by the blues/sound systems parties they went to and their self trained playing, alongside a more experimental sound as they were citing acts like Cecil Taylor, The Last Poets (who contributed to `For How Much Longer Can We Tolerate Mass Murder?'), 70s-Miles, Ornette Coleman, Beefheart & Can.
`Y' is a punishing, dubby aural assault - though Mark Stewart's lyrics aren't quite as hectoring and polemic as his later work (to be fair he did say that the titles would have made more sense with a question mark on the end, seeming less pious, when interviewed around the `Kiss the Future' compilation). `Y' is one of those albums like `Trout Mask Replica' or `Philosophy of the World' that you need to have your wits around you to cope with - it might seem a seasick mess of dub, hollering and sax, but stay with it and the record becomes very compulsive.
Stewart's vocals on the classic single `She is Beyond Good and Evil' (a very different remixed/remodelled version is found on the Soul Jazz compilation `In the Beginning There Was Rhythm') predict the early vocals of the late Billy Mackenzie on `The Affectionate Punch' and `Fourth Drawer Down.' Nick Cave has often cited the Pop Group and Mark Stewart, so a track like `Thief of Fire' sounds like Nick Cave fronting a more freeform version of Public Image Ltd circa `Metal Box.' If you like that dub sound of PIL, you should love `Y' - though The Pop Group are closer to the `Chant'-end of that era of Lydon and co.
A lot of this record sounds wonderfully extreme, no surprise that they were cited by Richard Edson - the original drummer of Sonic Youth (who was also in Konk) - in the sleeve notes of last year's reissue of SY's debut e.p. The Pop Group and the bands they spawned (notably Pigbag and Rip Rig & Panic) were all about the rhythm and sat well with the emphasis on funk, jazz and rhythm prevalent in the NY No Wave and Mutant Disco scenes. Check out last year's Konk compilation on Soul Jazz to compare, and see NY acts like ESG, Liquid Liquid, and early Was (Not Was). The Pop Group have also been cited by Massive Attack - the claustrophobic dub inflections clearly a model for the darker side of trip hop, e.g. `Mezzanine', `Pre-Millennium Tension.'
`Y' also reminds me in feel of `New Picnic Time' by Pere Ubu, since it undercuts the expected rock elements in post punk by slipping into avant-garde modes. The piano-inflected `The Savage Sea' is as demanding as certain Robert Wyatt records. In fact, the Pop Group are probably as difficult as certain Faust or Henry Cow - though `We Are Time' is kind of catchy, no guitar solos, just pure riff - and made me wonder if it influenced Franz Ferdinand's `The Dark of the Matinee'?
The rest of the album sounds like a freeform dub take on the territory the Birthday Party explored on their 1980 album `Prayers on Fire', the Melbourne band were quite scathing about most UK bands when they relocated here in 1980, but always loved the Pop Group! Stewart's screams etc towards the end anticipate his own directions when backed by the Maffia on a series of classic solo records including `Learning to Cope With Cowardice' and `As the Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade.' Stewart feels vocally a peer of the uncompromising Genesis P Orridge for much of this record, which is fine by me! This Rhino reissue is also aided by the presence of the b-side to `She is Beyond Good and Evil', `3:38' - which is `She...' reversed backwards and processed into a dub version - giving the LP a circular quality it didn't have before.
`Y' remains a key album of that era and one that certainly stands up today, though for me the free-jazz/Funkadelic collision that was `We Are All Prostitutes' - a song found on the `Kiss the Future' and Rough Trade `Post Punk 01' compilations. It's great to have a lost classic like this readily available and budget priced these days, `Y' one of those extreme joys standing the test of time. Hope the rest of their back catalogue and other projects get the reissue treatment too...
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Musically and thematically , way ahead of it,s time.,
The Pop Group must have been named with tongue wedged firmly into cheeks as they have about as much to do with Pop as Steve McClaren does with popularity ( no pun intended) Fusing elements of jazz, reggae, dub, funk and punk the band were wired as taut as an assassins garrotte .Coming out of the Bristol post punk scene in 1978 every song on their debut album Y is on the verge of either exploding into shards of white hot shrapnel or imploding into a writhing ball of steam .
Singer Mark Stewart , who also wrote the bands highly politicised lyrics -criticizing Western imperialism and contemporary capitalism -was an inflammatory front man switching from possessed preacher mode into sinister whispering confidante . The guitars are silvery slashes of aluminium , the percussion alternates between little militaristic flourishes and all the over place wig outs. Gareth Sagers saxophone just does it's own thing , seemingly unconnected to the rest of the band in any way.
Produced by reggae stalwart Dennis Bovell Y showcases a band powerfully confident of their music .Though it didn't sell particularly well it received sufficient critical acclaim to persuade "Rough Trade" to sign them up ( Y was released on the definitively indie "Radar " label) They released one more album-the catchily titled "For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder"- before splitting amid acrimony and legal wrangling.
It's been unavailable for years but this over due re-issue whilst not in the same league as some of the more expansive re-issues flooding out does contain one extra -the B-side to their first single , which is also on the album," She Is Beyond Good And Evil" which saw Bovell and band finding themselves short of material simply running the track backwards , layering percussion on top to create a mesmerising instrumental dub . Audacious , pioneering and thrilling in a sort of disconcerting way it sort of sums up what this elemental group were all about . Both musically and even more impressively thematically- way ahead of their time.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pop Group - Y,
A favourite from my sixth-form days and still great to listen to now. Thief of Fire and Snow Girl stand out as does The Boys from Brazil. An acquired listen and I don't know anyone else who likes this album or to whom I'd recommend it. Try it and if you like it, keep it as a hidden pleasure. Mark Stewart wouldn't thank me for saying that! So buy it now!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pop Group - Y,
OMG - what a great find after some totally random surfing on Spotify. I know nothing about this band at all, but it was simply brilliant. Very inventive, very hard to categorise but a truly great sound and mix.
Must get back to listening to this album again
5.0 out of 5 stars from 1980 sounding like made in 2012,
Absolute incredible fantastic motherfxcker of an album never boring always interesting no bleeding red hot chilli pappers without the great pop group,very agressive too like a more crazed and funky nbirthday party with the absolute masterpiece she is beyond good and evil best album of the 80 s awesome 10 stars
5.0 out of 5 stars Human, all too Human,
One of the greatest aural dissonant assaults mounted on rhythm and coherence ever undertaken whilst still using the form. Decomposed rock n roll as it was then known, bar chords and bleats, now becoming a post modern masterpiece, composed of a series of sound layers, brought eventually screaming into a coherent frame of cacophony, tension and space.
First purchased in 79, it beamed noise from another level. Whereas the Pistols drew from RNB, the Pop Goup took a jazz mojo and de-constructed the guitar, bass, sax, piano, drums and vocals. Then built it back again brick by brick.
Lyrical cut up streams of consciousness exploring all components of hallucination, whether induced chemically or organically became the lyrical template. The musical score destroyed notions of continuity, verse and chorus. Avant jazz sax , chanting, tribal drumming, James brown guitar and reggae bass brought into eventual coherence by Marks screams and whispers, underscoring the stress of the descent into a collective maelstrom. It was a political record but also more importantly a psychological mirror of an internal chaos.
Dennis Bovell at the sound controls masterminded the production. The effect arose from his imagination as much as the band. The recording studio becomes his other instrument. Dennis's reggae production nous alchemised avant rock, blending his dub skills to create something big and bold. Way beyond the white boy rock musings of late 60's, early 70's. The use of a reggae producer was a vast jump in the dark at the time, marking an era of change.
The late 70's, the big bang; an explosion in the imagination, never really equalled before or since in popular culture. The Pop Group blasted into being in Bristol, introducing Nietzsche with Good and Evil, marking a post everything world, in particular the end of mono theistic Marxism and the arrival of Markism.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pretty much my favourite record of all time,
Not much more to say than that. Not easy to listen to for the first time. But that was almost 30 years ago for me, and the rhythms and noises from Y have jangled around in my head for most of the intervening period.
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