Release Date: Jan 25, 2011
Record label: Yep Roc
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Punk/New Wave
Click to listen to Gang of Four's "Who I Am" and "Never Pay For the Farm" Gang of Four are grumpy old Marxists and proud of it. The anti-capitalist punk funk of their 1979 classic Entertainment! has influenced generations of bands (from Mission of Burma to Franz Ferdinand), but their outlook remains bitter. Their first album of new material in 16 years shoots scorn at a variety of atrocities — Internet narcissism, Gitmo, expense accounts, sex and lies — while setting Andy Gill and Jon King's vocal cross talk to viscose guitar scraping and rigid, bracing rhythms.
In 1979, just four months after the election of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, Gang of Four's Entertainment! captured the post-punk zeitgeist with its taut rhythms, iconic guitar sound and politically aware lyrics. At a time of bitter recession, racial tension and civil unrest, Gang of Four delivered an album of eloquent anti-capitalist songs that you could actually dance to. Fast forward to 2011.
The story of the Gang Of Four reads like a history lesson in what might have been. Irrefutably years ahead of their time, debut single 'Damaged Goods' landing just as the first wave of punk was running out of momentum, the Leeds four-piece weren't just among the most forward-thinking of that movement's operatives. Unbeknownst to them they were about to influence three decades worth of musical legacy in the process.
When Jon King sarcastically asked, "What to do for pleasure?" on Gang of Four's epochal 1979 debut, Entertainment!, little did he realize that, 32 years later, he'd be answering his own question with: buy an Xbox 360 Kinect! But rather than undermine Gang of Four's ideological integrity, the recent use of the song quoted above ("Natural's Not in It") in a Microsoft gaming-console commercial marked a logical extension of it. Despite their Maoist fascinations and anger-is-an-energy fervor, Gang of Four were always less interested in smashing storefronts than in exploring the anxiety of consumerism-- how a culture obsessed with status and acquisition reduces personal interaction to a transactional experience. And they did so not out of scorn for those who fuel the capitalist machine, but to acknowledge their own complicity in it.
Gang of Four’s place in the rock ‘n’ roll history books has long been settled, but that hasn’t kept the defining post-punk band from trying to add new chapters to a story full of unlikely twists and turns. So the first thing you’re likely to wonder about Content, even before whether it’s worthy of classic Gang of Four or not, is what its reason for being is: With a legacy that’s already set in stone, just why do principals Andy Gill and Jon King keep coming back for more, especially since their landmark albums Entertainment! and Solid Gold don’t feel dated 30 years down the line? Indeed, the Go4 back catalog of Marxist-pop anthems are still fresher and harder hitting than the work of so many bands who cribbed from ‘em over the past three decades, be it the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ aggro funk-rock, Rage Against the Machine’s agit-pop, or Franz Ferdinand’s post-post-punk. While one could hardly blame Gill and King if they were indulging their inner capitalists to continue their Sisyphean chase after the fame and fortune that has eluded them, you get the idea that there’s something more to Content than just cashing in while they still can.
Two weeks ago, Wire released Red Barked Tree, once again proving their viability as a contemporary band, 30 years after their prime. Gang of Four, who came up in the same scene and strove for a similar brand of smart, prickly post-punk, has a little harder time with the transition to modernity on Content, a weirdly anachronistic album that retains some of the band’s signature qualities while landing on a strange new sound. Then again, Wire has been sporadically putting out material throughout the last three decades; this is Gang of Four’s first effort in 16 years, and only their third in the last 28.
More than 30 years after their revered breakout and 16 years after their last studio effort, post-punk veterans Gang of Four returned with a new album, funded by fan donations. While the integral rhythm section of Dave Allen and Hugo Burnham have been out of the picture since the ‘80s (with the exception of some live shows and a re-recording session for Return the Gift), a new incarnation for 1995’s Shrinkwrapped showed that founding members Jon King (vocals) and Andy Gill (guitar) could keep the music aggressive and interesting. With bassist Thomas McNeice and drummer Mark Heaney on board for 2011’s Content, performances are generally middling, but a few songs show a glimmer of the band’s former jagged glory, particularly the opening “She Said 'You Made a Thing of Me,'" the upbeat "Who Am I?," and the caustic "I Can't Forget Your Lonely Face.
The tale of Gang of Four is one that stretches to the very beginnings of the post-punk movement. Active from 1977-1983, and then again from 1987-1997, the band is back once again (with another new lineup) for their first album since 1995’s Shrinkwrapped. Even with such a storied history, the band members are heroes in the scene, innovators who have taken the sounds and heaviness of rock and mixed into it everything from dub to dance-punk elements.
Gang of Four play the Phoenix February 4. See listing. Rating: NN Any time an influential band reunites, you're forced to wonder if they really have something new to say or if they're just back to pick up royalty cheques. It's a question you'd rather not have to ask of Gang of Four, whose seminal 1979 debut was as notable for its strident left-wing politics as it was for laying down its essential post-punk blueprint.
When it comes to the popular assessment of a band’s legacy, there’s an unspoken rule that if you do something awesome enough, people will remember and love you for it over time, no matter how dull, lackluster, or downright embarrassing your subsequent work is. This is why Black Sabbath is better known as the band that gave us Paranoid, and not as the band that recorded that song with Ice T in the mid-90s. Gang of Four’s slow descent into mediocrity has been largely overlooked, primarily on account of the sheer game-changing MAGNITUDE of their debut LP, Entertainment!.
If 1979's Entertainment! weren't already a cardinal point in rock history, it would be tempting to say that Gang of Four have equaled it with Content. While such an assessment is contextually impossible, this surprising new LP trounces the Leeds-born quartet's post-1983 output along with most everything unleashed by their millennial spawn. New drummer Mark Heaney and bassist Thomas McNeice deserve much of the credit for revitalizing the herky-jerky rhythms that humanize vocalist Jon King's staccato polemics.
As Marxist post-punks from Leeds, [a]Gang Of Four[/a]’s position as one of the most influential bands of the 21st century is an unlikely one. It also means that their first album for 16 years (only singer [b]Jon King[/b] and guitarist [b]Andy Gill[/b] remain from the band formed in 1978) sounds curiously retrograde – newcomers might just wonder why these old dudes are ripping off [a]Bloc Party[/a]. Still, there’s nothing old-fashioned about the perceptiveness and rage of their lyrics, while a £45 limited-edition version of the album comes complete with plastic sachets of King and Gill’s actual blood – so any young bucks wanting to recreate the GO4 sound can now do so from their musical one.
Gang of Four are one of those rare bands that have the albatross of a near-perfect debut album around their necks—that being the seismic post-punk politico-funk of 1979’s Entertainment! But these days there’s the added burden of outdoing younger bands they’ve influenced over the years: REM and Red Hot Chili Peppers for starters, not to mention all those over-hyped Gang of Four copycats on the early to mid-2000s Brooklyn scene. Bands like the Rapture, !!!, The Liars, Les Savy Fav, to name a few, may have loosely appropriated the Four’s engine-like rhythmic churn, but they never had the same sophisticated politics nor the persistently odd angles of the peerless Andy Gill’s half-rhythm-half-lead guitar architectonics. As far as this legendary foursome’s new offering, Content, is concerned, well, at least they’re not simply cruising on the laurels of their formidable back catalog, and to be fair, Content is no worse than other recent comeback albums by fellow post-punkers Mission of Burma, The Buzzcocks, and Wire.
Vital act of the post-punk era releases their not-so-vital new album. Charles Ubaghs 2011 To reform, or not to reform? For many grey haired rockers, post punks and 90s indie sorts, the answer has of late been in the affirmative. The results of these reformations have been mixed. The Go-Betweens and Mission of Burma both picked up like they never stopped, successfully pushing their original sounds to new horizons.