The Pop Group

Honeymoon on Mars

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On one hand, it's refreshing that the Pop Group have returned to action sounding nearly as volatile as they did in 1980. On the other, it's more than a bit depressing that so much of the injustice and madness they ranted about back in the day is still recognizable in our daily lives more than three decades later. The 21st century edition of the Pop Group -- Mark Stewart on vocals, Gareth Sager on guitar and keyboards, Dan Catsis on bass, and Bruce Smith on drums -- made a memorable return to the recording studio on 2015's Citizen Zombie, and 20 months later, they return with another studio effort, 2016's Honeymoon on Mars. The album sees the Pop Group working with a production dream team -- seven tracks were created with the studio assistance of U.K. dub master Dennis Bovell (who worked on the group's classic early recordings), while the other three find the band working with Hank Shocklee, the hip-hop mastermind behind Public Enemy's most explosive sides. Given the talent behind the boards here, it's a bit surprising that Honeymoon on Mars sounds as open and clear as it does. The music often sounds jagged and harsh in the true Pop Group manner, with metallic sheets of guitar and thick, clanking basslines. But the arrangements and production play up the dynamics, with plenty of open space between the notes. Bovell's tracks are full of the echo and sonic manipulation that are the hallmark of his best production work, but without their usual depth and sense of size. Meanwhile, Shocklee's contributions boast an impressive air of menace, but they're short on the dense layers of aural chaos that exploded throughout his most celebrated sessions. Honeymoon on Mars doesn't sound as heavy and punishing as the Pop Group's best work, but the bellow of Stewart's vocals is as distinct and furious as ever, and his fiery proclamations on our culture and the people who control it are loaded with all the venom one could hope for. And even in its stripped-down form here, the Pop Group's music still boasts plenty of edge and fire. Honeymoon on Mars isn't up to the level of the Pop Group's finest recordings, but it's still punk/funk agit-prop that's fearless and unafraid to strike, and if anything, their brand of troublemaking is more deeply needed now than ever before.

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