By Christopher Nosnibor
The Pop Group seem to be on a roll at the moment. Following the release of their comeback album, Citizen Zombie last year, the seminal band’s earlier works are finally coming back into print, and are available on CD for the first time.
The reissue of their second album – first released some 26 years ago – comes as a timely reminder of why they enjoy cult status as one of the most important acts to have emerged from post-punk era. The title seems more pertinent than ever in the political climate of 2016, and musically, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? still sounds sharp, too, and the addition of single cut “We Are All Prostitutes” (originally intended for inclusion but dropped from the final running order) makes for a nifty bonus.
“Forces of Oppression” brings together choppy guitar, distorted, manic vocals and extraneous noise, all pinned together by thumping groove-heavy drumming and an audaciously funky bassline, before “Feed the Hungry” comes on like an acid-fuelled collaboration between Talking Heads and Gang of Four. It sounds pretty fucking wild in 2016, but what you have to remember is that this was released in 1980. Ok, so the late 70s and early 80s were perhaps some of the most fertile years for new and innovative music which experimented freely and smashed all genre boundaries and definitions – bands like Cabaret Voltaire and Foetus were going nuts with tape loops – but even so, there was nothing around that sounded quite like this.
“One Out of Many” features early progenitors of hip-hop The Last Poets, and it wouldn’t be too great a claim to locate this as the first rap-rock crossover (and to think the Judgement Night soundtrack seemed revolutionary in 1993). Wild piano and laid-bag bongos mark a change of pace, but the socio-political focus of the lyrics remains unwavering. It’s well-placed in the running order, as the frenzied off-the-wall funk ruckus of “Blind Faith” hits twice as hard and twice as angular.
“Nixon and Kissinger should be tried for war crimes for the secret bombing of Cambodia!” Mark Stewart hollers in the middle of a mad tirade on “How Much Longer.” He goes on: “The Muslims are rising up Jihad! / That means holy war / Every badly paid moment of boredom on the production line / is a violent crime / For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? / In our ignorance, people are killed / In your decadence, people die.” This political anger, against a backdrop of cacophonous noise, reveals punk’s impotence, as being little more than amped-up pub rock with some pissed-off sloganeering. This feels more of a threat to the establishment, and more revolutionary in every way.
“Justice,” which kicks off side two on the original vinyl, is another flailing funk beast, the clean, trebly guitar and sax smooth against Stewart’s spit-gargling protestations. The murky experimentalism of “The Are No Spectators” and the wild freeform jazz of “Communicate” are gloriously jarring. Appropriating the theme to “Robin Hood,” the brass-blasting “Rob a Bank” concludes the album with a fist-shaking call to arms, advocating people ‘steal from the rich!’
An album recorded at a time of social and economic turmoil: against a backdrop of pay disputes and strikes, high unemployment and high inflation, the Winter of Discontent had thawed only to make way for the arrival of Margaret Thatcher and free-markets, monetisation and privatisation. Britain was a nation in chaos, and For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? encapsulates the zeitgeist. It’s depressing to consider the fact that it still does, but at least this reissue means a whole new generation may get to hear it.
For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? will be released by Freaks R Us on February 19, 2016