The Pop Group‘s reissue project continues apace with the release of their classic 1980 LP For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? This, their second studio album (and their last for 35 years) saw their overt politicisation, as the title will attest. To the cynical and jaded ears of someone coming to this in 2016, like me for example, there’s an endearing, almost naïve quality to their sloganeering, as with a lot of ’80s agit-pop; but as punk had already proved, that need be no barrier to either artistic success or good songwriting.It’s all about what you do with your righteous energy, and what The Pop Group did with theirs was nothing short of extraordinary. The opening one-two punch, with “Forces Of Oppression”‘s uptight funk followed by the more dub-oriented musings of “Feed The Hungry”, showcases just what they are capable of, Underwood and Smith‘s nervy and restless rhythm section underpinning Sager‘s wiry, angular guitar and Stewart‘s anguished howls. At this point purists may look away — the equally-classic single “We Are All Prostitutes” (cited by Nick Cave as a huge influence on The Birthday Party and responsible for one of the most iconic T-shirts of the post-punk era) has been added to the roster, though instead of bunging it on the end, they’ve slipped it in straight after that opening twosome, replacing “One Out Of Many” where it was originally intended to live. Normally I’m not a fan of such running-order shenanigans, but it makes the perfect follow-up to the opening duo and fits the flow of the album just fine. It could almost be Talking Heads, if Talking Heads were being beaten up by a dude with a violin.
For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? is a more focused, less sprawling album than their début, Y, with pretty much every track tailored for the dancefloor, from the insanely busy percussion of “Blind Faith” to the abstract dub of the title track, Stewart crying “There’s a hell of a lot of money to be made from war” in an echo chamber of twitchy grooves and scratchy guitars. “Nixon and Kissinger should be tried for war crimes” — a simple enough message, delivered in a very complex way.If the music can be seen as a delivery system for Stewart’s dissatisfaction and anger with the ’80s political landscape, it really doesn’t take the spoonful of sugar approach, choosing instead to ensnare you in its atonal excesses by the supremely well-executed placement of catchy riffs and danceable beats. Sonically it’s a treat; the idea that they were contemporaries of Throbbing Gristle puts things into context. “Post-punk” often gets used as shorthand for “poppier punk band with tunes”, but that’s a lazy trap to fall into — The Pop Group owe as much, if not more, to Funkadelic and Miles Davis as they do the Pistols or The Clash. There’s a focus on sound, rather than just music — the production (the LP was recorded and mixed by Dave Anderson, formerly of Hawkwind and Amon Düül II, at his Foel Studios in Wales) follows a similar aesthetic, sounding simultaneously lo-fi and incredibly tightly plotted.
As someone who came to The Pop Group fairly recently, it’s amazing how much of For How Much Longer… you can hear in the last three decades of music. From the edgier end of Britpop (well, as “edgy” as Britpop ever allowed itself to be) to ’90s industrial rock to today’s youth in the form of, say, Savages, their noisy, raucous celebration of revolution (along with the sterling work of contemporaries like Wire and Killing Joke) has itself been launching a very quiet musical revolution for the last three and a half decades. But it’s always worth going to the source. There’s nothing more inspiring than the justifiably righteous anger of the young; especially when they seem to share the same attitude as Emma Goldman when it comes to revolution and dancing.
Now get out there and funk shit up.