Music

The Pop Group: Honeymoon on Mars

The Pop Group's follow up to their 2015 comeback album steers away from classic post-punk and into odd new territory.


The Pop Group

Honeymoon on Mars

Label: Freaks R Us
US Release Date: 2016-10-28
UK Release Date: 2016-10-28
Amazon
iTunes

With 2015’s Citizen Zombie the Pop Group returned triumphantly from a 35-year hiatus. The album succeeded in translating their original, quirky, noisy sound to the modern age and updating it with new elements. Citizen Zombie had driving grooves and strange glitchy accents that made for an enjoyable listen. The songwriting was predictably cynical and politically charged, addressing new concepts but serving the same purpose the band’s music served in the late '70s. It was an impressive comeback album, and when the news came that the band was recording another new album, it was a welcome announcement.

But with Honeymoon on Mars, the modernization of the sound is a bit forced. The approach veers more towards the experimental but isn’t grounded in the dark, driving core, so it tends to fly off in odd directions. The bass-heavy “City of Eyes” perhaps comes closest to maintaining the feeling the group has achieved in the past, but even that breaks apart in the middle into a confusing mix of repetitive slide-guitar, clap-along drums, unintelligible guitar lines, and synth effects. It sounds unintentional, like an impromptu jam session the band would have in rehearsal. They seem to be having fun, but it’s too disjointed to keep anyone else’s attention.

The same is true of the album’s lead single “Zipperface". The song has engaging roots: a synthy, disco tempo that fully embraces darker songwriting and plenty of unsettling vocal and instrumental stings. What detracts from the song’s appeal is that Mark Stewart’s vocals are so loud in the mix that they overpower all of the wonderful boldness in the instrumental. Stewart, throughout the album, wails and squeals above the instruments and it is intended to be a bit strange and a bit loose with the tuning, but the unsettling quality frequently devolves into a grating sound and quickly becomes unlistenable. “Pure Ones” for example is a fine, if over-reverbed, track without Stewart’s singing. But each time he howls, “Step away my friend!” it becomes harder and harder not to skip to the next track.

And where, with Citizen Zombie, the band displayed a skill for modernizing their sound, here, the mixture is rushed and laborious. Gone is the effortless synthesis of old and new. Instead, EDM snare builds and trap-beats are shoehorned clumsily into songs alongside funky guitar chords and deep gothic synths. “Heaven?” is a massively confused and confusing track that sounds like a mishmash of scraps from the album’s unused takes, and the opener “Instant Halo” sounds like the intro to a track, but the track never starts. It’s just a spoken word piece laid over a four-minute-long build with no payoff.

Honeymoon on Mars clearly started from an interesting, inspired place. The industrial percussion on “War Inc.” is thrilling and “Little Town” contains a brilliant bassline that perfectly frames Stewart’s Nick Cave-esque delivery. There are a lot of good ideas and great elements, but it’s overproduced and too complicated. The album sounds rushed and not thoroughly thought out. Certain moments have you wondering whether the take they used was the best they could get or if they just didn’t want to take the time to do it again. The Pop Group’s name has always been a bit ironic, but strangely enough, a more focused, fine-tuned, pop sensibility is what they needed here to make this album a more accessible type of strange.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Becky Warren Shares "Good Luck" and Discusses Music and Depression

Becky Warren finds slivers of humor while addressing depression for the third time in as many solo concept albums, but now the daring artist is turning the focus on herself in a fight against a frightful foe.

Music

Fleet Foxes Take a Trip to the 'Shore'

On Shore, Fleet Foxes consist mostly of founding member Robin Pecknold. Recording with a band in the age of COVID-19 can be difficult. It was just time to make this record this way.

Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.