September 5, 2002

Ed's Underground

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Despite all the experimentation that has gone on in the history of music, it is very rare that a band doesn’t fit into pre-existing genre classifications. Most musicians, even the most out-there, can be put into a handy niche for the purposes of marketing.

The Pop Group, however, cannot.

A bizarre, often abrasive, mix of punk rock, free jazz, funk, dance (although the results were seldom danceable), and noise, the band’s debut Y melded the group’s influences together to create a sound that — over 20 years later — still hasn’t been duplicated.

The CD release kicks off with the non-LP single “She Is Beyond Good and Evil,” the band’s best and most accessible song. “Don’t Call Me Pain” is much more abstract, led by a catchy sax riff that, whenever it appears, provides some much needed solidity to the song — especially since the bulk of the cut is dedicated to a loose sax-and-rhythm-section jam with Mark Stewart barking political rhetoric over the top.

Stewart’s vocals define the album. He howls and growls over these ten songs, matching the ferocity of his bandmates at every point. Stewart contributes soulful, almost ballad-like vox on the jazzy, discordant “Snowgirl.” On “Thief Of Fire,” the singer throws out fractured screams that match the cut-up funk of the music. The band is also capable of delivering quieter — but no less affecting — fare like the creepy “Savage Sea,” which alternates from delicate piano passages to musique concrete, all dominated by Stewart’s intense, often operatic singing.

Seldom will you come across an album this willfully strange, yet so strangely enjoyable. Listening to this is like hearing the entire rock n’ roll era chopped up, turned upside down, and recombined in ways you’ve never heard before. The Pop Group’s debut — and to a lesser extent, the two much rarer albums they followed it with — is a totally unprecedented musical document. And marketing be damned.

Archived article by Ed Howard