Monday, July 04, 2011

Progressive Music Classics. The Pop Group's "Rob A Bank"

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By MARC McDONALD

Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away from dogsh*t like "American Idol," music really mattered. Back then, there were artists who followed their own muse, commercialism be damned. If it meant toiling away in obscurity, then so be it.

The late, great The Pop Group, from Bristol, England, were a fantastic example of a band that refused to ever compromise in the slightest bit. They refused to compromise on their radical message. And they refused to compromise on their abrasive music and make it radio-friendly.

I've heard critics of the band over the years who've said that The Pop Group were simply too extreme. But that's what I always enjoyed about them.

Early punk bands laid the groundwork for this sort of music. The Pistols and The Clash tore up the rulebook and called for an end to the lazy, complacent, radio-friendly pop scene of the late 1970s.

But punk also raised a question: what to do afterwards? After all, three chords and a lot of rage will only get you so far, musically.

And after The Clash made the definitive punk statement, with their first album, it was clear that there needed to be a new music that'd be worthy to pick up where punk left off. Regurgitating the Pistols and the Clash over and over simply wasn't a worthy successor music (despite what dullards like Green Day and their fans believe).

Bands like The Pop Group took up this challenge in the late 1970s. They mixed up the punk template with abrasive noise, dub, funk and avant-garde sounds. They sounded (back then, and now) like a hurricane of hand grenades, threatening to blow up in the listener's face. First and foremost, they tried hard to create something totally new.

And then there was the message. The Pop Group grabbed you by the collar and forcibly showed you the evils of the world and how you were getting f*cked by The Rich and Powerful. The band raged against a wide variety of worthy targets: social injustice, racism, fascism, hunger, war, evil multinational corporations, inequality, and much more. The Pop Group didn't do love songs.

Of course, The Pop Group's deeply uncommercial records sold poorly. And they weren't even released in the U.S. But in the intervening decades, the band's message has only grown more powerful.

If anything, the world is a far more f*cked up place today than it was when The Pop Group was around. Inequality, for example, has grown dramatically, in both Britain and the U.S.

And multinational corporations have, if anything, grown even more evil and soulless (see monstrous entities like Halliburton and Goldman Sachs).

Between the horrors of George W. Bush, Gitmo, state-sponsored torture, Fox "News" and the Iraq War, it's clear that The Pop Group wasn't exaggerating when they implied that a whole new form of fascism was on the horizon.

In 1980, The Pop Group released their second, and final, album, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? Featured in the video above, "Rob a Bank" is a song that has grown increasingly ironic over the past three decades.

But as we all found out, after the economy collapsed in September 2008, it was the banks who wound up robbing us. The Bush administration took $1 trillion of our tax dollars and used it to bail out the crooks on Wall Street.

It was an outrageous crime against the people. And it shows that The Pop Group weren't being overly pessimistic in their indictment of corporate capitalism.

Incidentally, The Pop Group recently reformed to do some gigs in Europe. The band now plan to release a new studio album in the fall.

If you like what you hear in the video above, I urge you to check out both the band's studio albums, as well as the compilation, We Are All Prostitutes. All the band's records seem to be (at least in the U.S.) only available as imports from Japan (where the band has long had a sizeable audience). Band front-man Mark Stewart has also released a number of phenomenal albums as a solo artist, since 1980.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the founding fathers of Detroit proto-punk like the MC5 or The Stooges. The MC5 sang about cultural issues when they weren't singing about getting high or trying to get laid. Yeah The Stooges mostly sung about trying to get laid, but their style of music went totally against the rock norms of 1969 and 1970 when they first took off, which led the way for "conventional" punk, if punk could ever be labelled that way. Just a thought, Detroit isn't just known for economic hardship and suffering you know. Our heroes have this bad habit of making it big and packing up for the west coast while leaving the rest of us to rot. :(

-WageslaveZ-

Marc McDonald said...

Hi WageslaveZ, thanks for your comment.
Yes, I've long been a big fan of the Stooges and the MC5: two of the great bands of all time. I saw Iggy in concert in Seattle years ago. It was a memorable show that ended in a mini-riot. Nobody was hurt, but there was a lot of chaos and Iggy seemed to thrive on it all.
Detroit is truly a mecca for great music. I also enjoy Motown and even some of the techno artists, particularly the abstract and experimental stuff.
I also like some of the tunes by the White Stripes.