Gang Of Four – [Album]

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

No matter who you are or which philosophy you subscribe to, there's no arguing that fifteen years is a long time. Especially now – when the internet and diminished attention spans have reduced Andy Warhol's vaunted “fifteen minutes of fame” to as many nanoseconds or mouse clicks – a band trying to orchestrate a return after fifteen years of functional inactivity is staring down an imposing list of unknowns. Relying on name recognition only goes so far and trying to play the same gimmicks and changes that worked in 1996 now could very easily get a group laughed out of any room or, worse, totally ignored – so if a band is going to come back, they'd better make damned sure they have a plan and something pertinent to offer a much- altered and different music landscape. Does post-punk institution Gang Of Four have what it takes to make an impression on a new breed of listeners and music consumers? No doubt they do but, the band hasn't made it easy for anyone with their new album, Content.

What Gang Of Four has done with Content is offer a record that could function as an introduction for those listeners unfamiliar with the band's “glory days” and will bring them up to speed, but also pushes that envelope just a little further to appeal to those few who do indeed remember. That machination falls squarely into gear as the gaunt and angular but oddly groovy guitars of “She Said 'You've Made A Thing Of Me'” open Content and re-introduce Gang Of Four to the world. There is tension in the textural march of these guitars and the band plays with that impression mercilessly as singers Andy Gill (known to this generation as “the guy who produced The Futureheads' first album”) and Jon King exchange muted whispers and yelps to help drive anticipation up while the rhythms supplied by Mark Heaney and Thomas McNeice simmer and seethe behind them.  The result isn't the sort of explosion listeners would expect of a band trying to break back into the big time, but it is a great big tease; here, Gang Of Four present a noxious but perfectly sealed little package and dare listeners to open it and immerse themselves in it because the band will not come or pander to them.

Those who do tread into Content won't be disappointed, but the act of active listening remains a constant requirement to get the most out of the album; those who remain outside and only take a surface glance will only get the most mawkish and formulaic of impressions. If a listener hangs back and simply observes songs like “You Don't Have To Be Mad,” “You'll Never Pay For The Farm,” “It Was Never Gonna Turn Out Too Good” and “I Can't See From Far Away,” for example, all they'll really get is a series of inchoate and ruptured guitar parts punctuated by single-note bass pokes and trebly drum fills. Those brave listeners who submit to the presentation and let it overtake them will be rewarded with spiraling rock compositions and incendiary song craft waiting just below that surface though. Dig in, and lines like “I'm the heart of the storm and it's too dark to see/ It's fixed in the stars how it will be” (from “It Was Never Gonna Turn Out Too Good”) and “Burn at the stake! Die for a break!/ Lose all I stake! Kill all the day!” (from “Do As I Say”) sound like the finest calls for rioting and chaos in years – but only for those intelligent enough to pay attention. Those cursed with the desire to take things at face value and not scratch the surface will be left frustrated by both Content and the band who made it, but those with the will to press in and work for it will get their heads blown off.

How many listeners will go along with that though? Most of today's pop is as vacuous as it ever was and regularly panders to the lowest intellectual common denominator – if it doesn't do so even more regularly now. With that knowledge in hand, there's no guessing how well Content will do on a large scale, but those few who are naturally predisposed to going against the grain will be able to take this record home, love it and laugh at those who don't get it. They may have been out of circulation for fifteen years, but Content shows Gang Of Four to be the exact same kind of band they've always been and that small pool of listeners who need what they have to offer (old or new, and whether they know it or not) will find them and quietly relish in them.



Gang Of Four – Free EP


Content is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

Comments are closed.