The Pop Group – Citizen Zombie – Joshua Reedy Album Review

Written by on November 12, 2023

The Pop Group – Citizen Zombie, album review by Joshua Reedy.


My copy: 2015 press by Freaks R Us.

Over 30 years had passed since The Pop Group’s dark, primitive and engrossing debut – a record so bold and distinctly paranoid that it still stands as a beacon of influence in the realm of post-punk music to this very day. Then 2015 came, and with it new material from Mark Stewart and company. Citizen Zombie: a record that conversely basks in lavish pop arrangements, shoving dissonance and syncopation to the backseat. Citizen Zombie does have highlights, for catchy melodies and skeletal guitar compositions, but this is mostly a vexing and poorly produced venture into strange territory.

The title track kicks off with echoed wailing and booming drums; its bright chorus made all the more obvious by a gaggle of background singers. The movement and energy is good – transforming between ballad and pop-meets-industrial shuffling, though the actual production is jarringly clean and lifeless. “Mad Truth” is admittedly fun and dramatic with a harmlessly poppy guitar progression and tropical keyboard accents. Stewart’s raving is all too in focus, with the recording feeling as plain as possible with effects slapped on in post – like a Kidz Pop version of Pere Ubu.

The blown out drums and slow growl of “Nowhere Girl” feel a little more adventurous, falling to a heavenly wave of harmonies with a vibe that feels trapped between Nick Cave’s later spiritual brand of post-punk and generic indie-pop. The porno strut of “Shadow Child” is almost schizophrenic enough to revive the atmosphere, with neat songwriting quirks to boot, but the corny flatulent bass tones muddy everything. The mechanical repetition of “The Immaculate Deception” is compelling only in the panned drumming, but Stewart’s vocals just aren’t convincing.

“S.O.P.H.I.A.” opens with neutered feedback then shifts into a strange take on lush gospel compositions, utterly throttling any sense of mystique. Finally, some factory-line syncopation appears in the coughing and wheezing rhythm of “Box 9” though the lyrics and bright vocals push things off course along with simple and generic drum patterns. The spoken word on “Nations” almost works in tandem with the woozy synth until you actively listen in to the yawn-inducing political lyrics (satire perhaps? I hope so).

Until now, the music has at least been tolerable to decent in quality, but the final three tracks completely lose it. “St. Outrageous” is an utter embarrassment of cheesy 80’s hard rock guitar and drums, made more annoying by the caterwauling of Stewart – this is pure butt-rock. “Age Of Miracles” and “Echelon” both suffer from the same horrible D.I. keyboard/piano sound, despite some clever writing on the latter.

The problem with Citizen Zombie really lies so much more in the production and sound than anything else – I do believe that there is a good album somewhere in here, but you’d have to rip it free of the plain, lazy recording style first. The guitars are either too clean or plied with meek distortion, the vocals sound like they were recorded in a corporate bathroom in one go and overcompensated for in post, and the bass often creeps into porn-parody with abominably farty effects. This is a record that is played way too safe for the same group that created Y. Though this review may come across as cynical, Mark Stewart will still be remembered for his visionary musical work; and his performances here, while overproduced, are at the very least electrifying and full of personality.


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