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The Pop Group: We Are Time (Y/Rough Trade)

Andy Gill, NME, 21 July 1980

THIS COULD have been a great record. On paper, it seemed to be a handful of The Pop Group's strongest suits.

Given that The Pop Group live are a completely different prospect from their recorded works, and given that the exotic (but occasionally concentrated) excesses of their earlier records are infinitely preferable to the drab, dogma-ridden dilution of For How Much Longer... a retrospective album culled (unfortunate choice of word, perhaps) from demo tapes and live material appeared to hold out a variety of promises.

But although We Are Time storms off like The Pop Group at their best with 'Trap', an early demo, by side two it all begins to sound very forced, contrived, and overly histrionic for its own sake, rather than for the sake of the lyrics or any internal dynamics in the music. And by the time the title-track at the end of the album is reached, the prospect of a gagged Mark Stewart has become highly desirable.

With the exception of 'Thief Of Fire' and 'Spanish Inquisition' – which are half-acceptable – the live tracks lack any kind of sustained control. Maybe okay at the time, but a flat, self-indulgent bore after the fact.

Similarly, with the exception of the excellent 'Trap', the studio/demo material treads water in an unfocused, messy fashion. And whenever they manage to put together a purposeful musical construction, as on 'Sense of Purpose', their lyrics let them down. "Science has no soul," they rant, "science has no conscience...we can't lose control, we can't play at God" – handy catchphrases with which to circumvent very real philosophical issues. Theirs is an ethical system based on past "certainties" rather than future possibilities – sterile, dogmatic, and for all the apparent freedom in the music, firmly back in the dark ages of received opinions. No follow-through of thought exists, just a blind grasping at illusory problems like 'Genius or Lunatic' (an invalid dichotomy based on bourgeois categories).

Elsewhere, they claim that "only the intense can dance without moving", patent bullshit along the lines of The Slits' stupid avowal that "silence is a rhythm too". One can only presume that this silence is the rhythm to which the intense (and only the intense, mind you) can dance without moving. Of course...!

The Pop Group's main fault is that, for them, issues are cut and dried, black and white; this certitude, combined with their obvious "imperialist legacy" guilt (another bourgeois fallacy, that of the sins of the father being visited on the son), makes such a comforting little cocktail that there is no chance of them ever suggesting an alternative: they are thereby neatly exempted from any real responsibility. That they half-realise this is suggested by the statement that "at this moment despair ends and tactics begin", which graces the sleeve of We Are All Prostitutes. That they have neither tactics nor strategy worth mentioning, beyond issuing silly ranting records, is borne out by the appearance of yet another record, yet another little cog of consumerism.

That doesn't worry me, particularly; I just wish it wasn't so duff. It could have been a great record...

© Andy Gill, 1980

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