The Pop Group: For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?

Harsh, abrasive, uncompromising and wholly unique, the Pop Group's sophomore album is as essential in 2016 as it was in 1980.

The Pop Group

For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?

Label: Freaks R Us
US Release Date: 2016-02-19
UK Release Date: 2016-02-19

While the Pop Group's moniker was tongue-in-cheek from the word go, the group's 1980 LP For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder took the group's unconventional approach to its logical conclusion. When one listens to it even now, it is no surprise that For How Much Longer ended up as the group's final studio album until their surprise reunion in 2015. The Pop Group had blown past all other post-punk acts and created a genre-defining (and genre-defying) epic, as fearsome and fearless as popular music can be.

Drawing heavily from free jazz, African folk music and funk in addition to their more conventional disco and reggae influences, on For How Much Longer the Pop Group's sonic palette has an incredibly impressive depth. At times, the music is ready for the dancefloor, as in the Afro-funk tinged "Blind Faith", while songs like "There Are No Spectators" wrap dub basslines around harsh, alienating and sparse instrumentation. The one constant is that the rhythms are airtight throughout, with bassist Dan Catsis and drummer Bruce Smith the undeniable stars of the group.

More troublesome are frontman Mark Stewart and saxophonist Gareth Sager, whose contributions practically define "acquired taste" and, depending on whether or not you've acquired that taste, their parts can easily be seen as song-ruining at times. Stewart's vocal style ranges wildly, from a Johnny Rotten-esque sneer ("Feed the Hungry", "Rob a Bank") to unearthly shrieking ("We Are All Prostitutes", "How Much Longer") and a few places in between, never staying in one place long enough for the listener to get accustomed to his current mode. Vocals can make or break albums for many, and anyone who finds the vocals in Primus songs hard to take would be advised to give the Pop Group a wide berth. Les Claypool's shtick, vocally, can be compared to Stewart's style after being watered down to a fraction of its original potency.

Similarly, Sager's saxophone playing, more in tune with the album's free-jazz influences than its funk or dub ones, is most often characterized by abrupt blasts of noise. Sager uses the saxophone as one would a weapon, seeking to destroy melody rather than create -- instrumental track "Communicate" opens with some of the harshest sound one is likely to hear outside of explicitly-designated noise music, and he is no friendlier to the listener anywhere else. If the Pop Group's name were meant to be unironic, Sager could very easily be accused of ruining the album wholesale, but instead his instrumentation serves a very definite purpose; his unmelodic playing ensures that only the truly committed listener bothers to proceed. The grooves are there, and they're some of the best to be found in post-punk, but Sager makes sure the listener has to put in work to get to them.

A lack of willingness to compromise anything for the sake of the listener characterizes every aspect of For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?. Where much of their post-punk contemporaries' music danced around naming names or being too specific with political content, Mark Stewart pulled no punches. The title track's lyrics include the statement that "Nixon and Kissinger should be tried for war crimes" and "Justice" refers explicitly to the killings of activists Blair Peach and Kevin Gately. Ambiguity would have been too safe, too comfortable for the Pop Group.

While it in no way makes for an entirely pleasant listening experience, the Pop Group's daring refusal to bow or conform to any standards of the popular music they named themselves in sarcastic defiance to is impressive and admirable to an extreme. They played by their own rules and created something unlike anything else that could be heard at the time, and now the album has been reissued to a musical climate that has gone three and a half decades without seeing anything else like it.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.