THE POP GROUP
For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?
(Freaks R Us Records reissue; out Feb. 19)
Album titles don’t come much blunter and gut-punching than this one. What the Pop Group lacked in subtlety they made up for in galvanizing music and lapel-grabbing lyrics. Thirty-six years after its initial release, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? still fills you with crisis-mode adrenaline and resonates with relevance. Humanity’s chronic problems are still gnawing away at sane minds, albeit now with extra desperation and despair. The planet’s atrocity exhibition enjoys a perpetual run. This British post-punk band’s scorched-earth funk and dub make all too much sense in 2016.
The Pop Group—vocalist/truth-spitter Mark Stewart, guitarist/saxophonist Gareth Sanger, bassist Simon Underwood, guitarist John Waddington, and drummer Bruce Smith—emerged out of Bristol, England in the late ’70s, hungry and itching to obliterate apathy and inertia. These radical lefties busted out of the gate with Y, a chilling cauldron of dub, funk, avant-jazz, and noise rock that makes 98.3 percent of music sound inexcusably innocuous. As this reissue reminds us, For How Much Longer somehow intensifies the approach, as the Pop Group had another year to hone their chops and focus their lyrical fury. Unlike Y, which was co-produced by dub master Dennis Bovell, For How Much Longer found the band at the console. The songs here don’t meander as much as the Y material; rather, the Pop Group cut to the chase with utmost urgency.
You can hear that on LP opener “Forces of Oppression,” which begins with a sample of a Balinese Kecak monkey chant (yakachaka yakachaka yakachaka!) before ratcheting up James Brown’s most pressurized, torqued funk circa 1971 to sheer heart attack levels. Right away, the Pop Group manifesto the listener to within an inch of their guilt threshold. By comparison, “Feed the Hungry” is a relatively bubbly funk number with a racing, bracing piano motif in the distance. Stewart decries the chain of injustices that lead to widespread hunger. “More than 10,000 men women children/Die of starvation every day/The major cause of famine and poverty is organized human greed/Western bankers decide who lives and who dies.” Blunt. The none-more-scathing “We Are All Prostitutes” clamps down on you with Jaws of Life tenacity; it’s the last anti-capitalist anthem we’ll ever need.
“Blind Faith”—with its Pete Cosey-esque sandblaster guitars that could’ve appeared on Miles Davis’s Get Up With It—excoriates indoctrination into ignorant belief systems in the harshest terms and sonics. “Prophets are hunted and imprisoned/While uniformed mass murderers become heroes,” Stewart laments. “How Much Longer” is the scariest, most fucked-up dub track I’ve ever heard—and I’ve heard a lot. Stewart declaims, “Nixon and Kissinger should be tried for war crimes for the secret bombing of Cambodia,” but this compelling song somehow didn’t result in those bastards doing hard time.
“Justice” is the “party” jam of the record, especially when it gets to the bit where Stewart growls, “A man had to have his balls removed!/After being kicked by the SPG!/Doesn’t look like justice to me!” “Communicate” dips into disciplined, chaotic jazz in the vein of Ornette Coleman and Blood Ulmer, while the high-tailing, throbbing funk finale “Rob a Bank” threatens to spiral right out of the grooves. The track ends abruptly, as if the engineer had to cut the power because he couldn’t handle the intensity.
There’s only been one band that rampaged so righteously and with such an unswerving sense of purpose as the Pop Group did in their prime; the world really couldn’t handle another one like them.