The Pop Group: Y (Definitive Edition) (Mute Records)
Guest writer Simon Tucker (Radio Europa) waxes lyrical about the recently reissued seminal album Y by Bristol punk-funk individualists The Pop Group.
We are currently in a constant state of revaluation. Maybe it has always been this way I don't know but it does seem that everything is about looking backwards. Look back to times that are now honey tinged yet were tar black. Was the past so dripping in valour? Nah of course not. Aside from the politics art now seems to be the gift in looking back. Working in a record shop I see the constant slew of reissues and how well they do and how that compares to sales of new albums by new artists and I can often despair. I blame fucking Britpop (I always blame fucking Britpop). That repackaging of gor blimey Englishness (for it was an English thing) had people fawning and gushing. Crass and tedious. Luckily the movement was brief and the gold rose once more to the top smashing down the bloated and the powder-caked. The progressives and the brave won the culture wars. So where does this leave Y? Another look back. Another repackaging. You see the difference with Y is that to look back at it now is to still gaze into the future. Its time-echo waves still shake through all that is good in modern art. That rage and controlled chaos are emotions we need harnessed and used.
Why does something this old sound so fucking good? It's because here were a band, The Pop Group, making music that they just had to make. This was their language and their heritage. The past was flying through them (listen to the nod n a wink to Hendrix's Foxy Lady that starts She Is beyond Good & Evil) and spraying out in shards of kaleidoscopic glory. The dub and the Captain mixed with jazz and white-flash punk fury. You even heard Glam in their (more of which later). Listening to The Pop Group is like watching a pan boil over on the stove. It is so beautiful and it soars and soars.
This definitive edition gives us the original album remastered and cut at half speed at Abbey Road, a new 10 track album of songs / versions unearthed during the remastering process plus a live album from the Y period and a 12" version of classic single She Is Beyond Good & Evil. Guess what? In a rare occurrence in the reissue field every bit of this release feels essential.
The running time allows you to travel through the very psyche of a band Mark Stewart (vocals, lyrics), Gareth Sager (guitar, saxophone, clarinet, piano, organ), John Waddington (guitar, bass guitar), Simon Underwood (bass guitar) and Bruce Smith (drums, percussion) bleeding their sound and breathing revolution. "Nothing is impossible when living on the brink.."
Aside from the band themselves a lot of what makes Y so special is the production by Dennis Bovell. The dub icon working on his first non-reggae project. Bovell's genius was not to try and make a conformist ideal of a band but instead he actually isolates each member spreading them through the channels making for an expansive sound that is pure claustrophobia.
You are surrounded by Y. You know that bit in early Roxy Music albums where each member would take a solo? Well Bovell & The Pop Group make the solo the song itself only with everyone playing at the same time. This can result in the beauty of Thief of Fire or the sheer horror of Dreams which is one the most terrifying pieces of music ever created.
Live The Pop Group harnessed their chaos into what is a more cohesive sound than on Y itself yet always managing to maintain that uniqueness and sheer Raw Power. They slam you over the head with their courage, wit and intelligence. Just listen to them pull the crowd in with the gorgeous Savage Sea (imagine a band having the bollocks to that out of the bag in a punk club). The Pop Group must have confused the hell out of people...they still do.
Yeah so I admit it, when a piece of pop culture is simply this brilliant, bold and beautiful it is fully deserving of the reissue treatment. The fact this is being released now in the time of..well you know what times you find yourself in. no need for me to tell you that eh. Y is the future and it is the now. No one has ever sounded like it and no one ever will. The Pop Group are to be saluted for everything they were and what they remain..beacons, forefathers, soothsayers and mystics..they will always be the unexplained.