Personnel: Mark Stewart (vocals); Gareth Sager (guitar, clarinet, saxophone, piano, organ); John Waddington (guitar, bass guitar); Simon Underwood, Dan Catsis (bass guitar); Bruce Smith (drums, percussion).
Audio Remasterers: Nick Watson; Gareth Sager.
Some artists churn out records for decades and leave behind little of significance. Others record little and leave a substantial legacy. The Pop Group belongs in that second category, releasing two studio albums and the odds-and-ends collection We Are Time during a three-year life span. When it becomes de rigueur to call an obscure band "seminal," it's worth reiterating why that band is important and reinvesting the clich? with some meaning. The Pop Group was among a handful of acts that harnessed the energy of punk, truly recognized the possibilities it opened up, and took music in exciting directions. The band used punk's back-to-basics ethos as a springboard for experimentation with funk, dub, and jazz, blending dance rhythms and rock in ways that continue to inspire artists. They also politicized rock with an intensity and urgency that put rebel poseurs like the Clash to shame. In addition to different versions of already available tracks, We Are Time features previously unreleased live, studio, and radio-session material. Demos from 1978 like "Trap" and "Sense of Purpose" display the frenetic rhythms, jagged guitars, and free jazz inclinations that would be further explored on the 1979 debut album. Taken to the brink by Mark Stewart's wailing vocals and Gareth Sager's squalling sax, the searing "We Are Time" and the staccato punk-funk rush of "Thief of Fire" show the band was as strong live as in the studio. The unlikely standout is "Amnesty Report" -- an alternate version of a 1979 B-side -- featuring Stewart's shouted recitation of an "Amnesty International Report on British Army Torture of Irish Prisoners" set to a fierce, heavily funky soundtrack. The Pop Group's official studio releases alone contained a wealth of musical ideas that still resonate. We Are Time simply confirms that the "seminal band" clich?s are justified. ~ Wilson Neate