Don’t be mislead. The Pop Group’s deliberately derisive name is not just a throw-away jibe directed at the music industry, it is the opening gambit in a career full of politically charged, loud, vocal protest at society’s ills. So, they’re older now. They don’t look like the young hell-raisers that first stepped onto stage in 1978. But when the band regrouped in 2010, they declared they were “even more fucked off” now than in the aftermath of the Winter of Discontent. And, judging by the reviews of their recent live shows, that might just be true. With the likes of Mike Watt, Nick Cave and St. Vincent (who occasionally throws “She Is Beyond Good And Evil” into her set-list) declaring their fandom, it seems that the underground heroes are finally getting some recognition as the unacknowledged legislators of the post-punk world.
This continuing re-issues project is part of their come-back strategy. In the Curiosities box set, you will find a remastered version of We Are Time – a collection of live and studio recordings originally released in 1980 - and the Cabinet of Curiosities itself, which is a new collection of rarities and remasters from the 70s and 80s, including some previously unreleased material. Although it is not exactly an 'essentials' collection – notably, “We Are All Prostitutes” is not included – the box-set is a fairly good encapsulation of what The Pop Group is, in both live and studio contexts. Their idiosyncratic mix of punk, funk, free jazz and sheer rage is summed up pretty well in these two records.
Everything on Cabinet of Curiosities screams. It just screams. With a raw, impassioned fervour, it screams. Even the 100% danceable, seriously funk-laden “Where There's A Will” includes some Ornette Coleman-style sax and vocals from Mark Stewart which are, by turns, whimpering, broken, outraged and deranged. “She Is Beyond Good And Evil” is presented in a previously unreleased version produced by Andy Mackay of Roxy Music, one which shows you exactly how The Pop Group can walk that line between noise, melody and Nietzsche like no one else.
We Are Time offers you the chance to see exactly what happens when the band started using the studio as a musical tool (not just a fancy substitute for a back bedroom). “Kiss The Book” is thick with the kind of twisted textures you might find on a Public Image Ltd. track. “Thief of Fire” is the epitome of their unhinged live energy, while “Colour Blind” is The Pop Group at their most contemplative and vulnerable. It's a strange meditation on movement, creativity, blood and the death of Christ... really, this shit gets kinda weird. But in a way that will make you feel as if you have never fully considered the potentiality of pop music as space for experimentation. Without wishing to go all High Fidelity here – sometimes just hearing a band is the best way to understand them. So stop reading and go listen.