By: Tim Foster
The Pop Group | website | facebook | twitter |
OK so this first paragraph is somewhere between reassurance for me, and confession to you. The Pop Group were around from 1977 until 1981 (1) and completely passed me by! What on earth was I listening to that obscured them from my ears? As far as I remember Psychedelic Furs, The Ruts, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Magazine, Kate Bush, Hawkwind all good bands but that leaves plenty of space for more good music. Or was it that they were played on John Peel and I switched off after Kid Jensen not yet ready for the more challenging music that John Peel was playing at that time? This has happened before, my son introduced me to Gang of Four, a band I should have been telling him about, anyway look… I’m sorry. OK, now let’s move on.
The Boys Whose Head Exploded is made up of live recordings from around 1980 drawing mostly on their recently reissued second album For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder (1980) and includes a DVD of live footage from the same period. To a newcomer like me it sounds like a group made up of the tougher brothers of Gang of Four, Haircut 100 and The Clash! As you would assume from its description as an ‘official bootleg’ it is raw at times, the sound quality is a little patchy but what it lacks in aural nicety it makes up for in energy, righteous dynamic anger, funk driven punkiness, and (sadly still) social relevance.
This is a band that were/are bothered. If you are looking for escapism then look elsewhere because The Pop Group want to occupy your mind and your body. Apparently The Pop Group were influenced by the Situationist, a group of European political and social theorists and activists who came to prominence in 1968 and who were most famous for their concept of ‘the spectacle’ and their use of appropriation and detournement (1). This radical left politics underpins the whole album unfortunately the economic/political system they were decrying in 1980 has got worse. In 1980 Margaret Thatcher had just come to power and had only just begun the dismantling of social democracy and the imposition of Neoliberalism, an economics of class war (2) that has deliberately disempowered and impoverished the working class while empowering and enriching the elite, in 2016 that Neoliberal project is nearly complete.
On ‘Feed the Hungry’ The Pop Group turn their sights on global economics and the exploitation of the vulnerable reminding us that “a major cause of famine and poverty is organised human greed” and that ‘Western bankers decide who will live and who dies’ “…murderers control our world” are the final words of ‘How Much Longer’.
But they don’t let the listener off lightly, they know, as V points out in ‘V for Vendetta’, that things are as they are because we have collaborated, are complicit, “We are all prostitutes, everyone has their price” (‘We are all Prostitutes’).
This is an excellent album of abrasive funk/punk/free jazz which points out economic injustice, militarism, exploitation and inequality without being preachy, recognising that we have all been infected in some way. There were times when it reminded me of Midnight Oil at their most searing lyrically but musically very different- if you want something to dance around to while feeling angry and challenged this is it!
(2) Harvey, D. (2005 ) A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.