As the Pop Group returns to the fray after 35 years away, there’s no sign that their political ardour has dimmed significantly; nor, under the watchful ear of new producer Paul Epworth, that the band has in any way dulled the cutting edge of its exploratory musical attitude, which remains at most times just a blade away from aural chaos.
The title track opens proceedings with a screeching noise akin to a train trying to avoid running into buffers, before developing into a slowly rolling, turbulent sonic stew, with snarling guitar and electronic detritus riding a roiling dub-funk drum’n’bass groove. “Like a bad, mad robot spinning out of control, do you have no soul?” yelps Mark Stewart, seeking out the most astringent disparities of key and pitch and sounding for all the world like a man from whom a confession is being drawn with hot pliers. “Out here on the perimeter, no one can hear you scream.”
Rock and pop highlights of 2015
Rock and pop highlights of 2015
1/5 Mark Lanegan Band - touring from 20 January
The most intriguing performance prospect of a fairly docile January is the arrival of the Mark Lanegan Band for a clutch of shows in support of the recent masterly album Phantom Radio. Expect soul-ravaged blues fatalism as Lanegan confronts dark memories and apocalyptic visions with apparent sangfroid, his baritone croon traversing soundscapes of chugging electropop, spiralling guitars and courtly pop melancholy.
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2/5 Bob Dylan - Shadows in the Night released 2 February
An album on which Dylan sings Sinatra, a performer in whose voice he claimed to hear "death, God, the universe, everything". He's eschewing the usual swaddling orchestrations in favour of relaxed small-combo versions, recorded with his own band. They're not cover versions, he explains: "They've been covered enough. Buried, as a matter of fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day."
3/5 The War on Drugs - touring from 16 February
2014's breakout US indie band will arrive for a string of British dates. Songwriter/frontman Adam Granduciel's blending of Dylanesque vocals, stadium-pop melodies and guitar drones should appeal to fans of Neil Young and My Bloody Valentine alike, and these shows offer the perfect opportunity to check whether they’re as loud and overbearing as Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek claims in his amusing song "War on Drugs: Suck My Cock". Thankfully, music is big enough to accommodate both.
4/5 The Jesus and Mary Chain - touring from 16 February
Having bowed to the demand to perform their debut Psychocandy in its entirety – a move that places them firmly in the rock-heritage classicist ranks, rather than the punk-nihilist cadre of their original 1980s inception – the re-formed Mary Chain take their sweet white whine around the country. Expect: great tunes; loud feedback. Don’t expect: a revolution.
5/5 Nicki Minaj - touring from 28 March
Initial reaction to Nicki Minaj's new album The Pinkprint is mixed, but however its more assertively autobiographical songs transfer to the live arena, bangers like "Want Some More" and "Anaconda" suggest that her upcoming shows should pack some punch. And the flamboyant diva can surely be relied on to put on a show. But what will be the colour-scheme? Think pink.
The Pop Group’s signature mode of deviant funk, with dub effects and tangled guitar distortion wielded with razoring disregard for polite taste, is still disconcerting and the focus of their anger is still sharp, albeit refracted through allegory and apocalyptism: the unseen forces “creating hyper-crisis in the age of anxiety”. “Is this the land of the lost?” asks Stewart. “Are we fallen gods?”
It’s a rhetorical question, of course. But hope persists, usually in female form, whether it’s the “sister freedom” of “Mad Truth” or the “Baby baby chaos, saint outrageous” of “St Outrageous”. Or most spectacularly, the heroine of “S.O.P.H.I.A.”, clearly a second cousin to the subject of their epochal debut single “She Is Beyond Good and Evil”, who, we learn over loping slap bass, rhythm guitar and engine-growl feedback, “will not be denied anything”. It remains to be seen whether the times have shifted acceptability more in their direction; but regardless, like Mad Max, it’s heartening to know they’re still out there somewhere.Reuse content