Monday, May 30, 2011

Real Life Record Reviews # 2: GANG OF FOUR

Oh, wait. Wrong Gang of Four. Sorry.
After a shockingly bad 2010, where only a new Jim Jones Review CD and Paul Weller’s last one comes to mind when thinking of exciting new rock ‘n’ roll, 2011 is quietly shaping up as a fine year for music. Surprisingly (or maybe not, come to think of it), its veteran acts who seem to be leading the way with strong new releases. Off the top of my pointed lil’ noggin, new ones from the New York Dolls (see review here), Motorhead, UK Subs, Michael Monroe, and Mike Watt come to mind. (Be expecting reviews of all in this space shortly.) It’s as if the vets are rolling up their sleeves, shaking their graying heads, and grumbling, “Guess we can’t rely on the kids to save rock ‘n’ roll….C’Mon, boys! Let’s get to work!” Glad to see it, too – personally, I get tired of spinning old records and reissues all the time.

Here we go! Much better.
            But that Gang of Four, of all bands, can return with a disc as strong and vital as Content (Yep Roc) is a huge, hulking surprise. For one thing, it’s hard to forget their brief foray into MTV hitmaker-dom. Come 1982, Go4 changed bassists, eschewed the gristle and grind of their initial approach (without losing the funk), and began issuing inoffensive pop hits like “I Love A Man In Uniform.” Sure, the anti-military content got that single banned in a Britain invading the Falklands, but the lighter approach was perfect for Americans who preferred “Rock The Casbah” to “Complete Control.” Suddenly, Go4 were the darlings of suburbanites in parachute pants and asymmetrical haircuts, the sorta kids who were more Johnny Slash from Square Pegs than Otto from Repo Man. I wanted to puke.

Perhaps a pic of the current lineup is in order?

            Personally, I prefer my Gang of Four to be Marxist, funky, and noisy. I want Andy Gill’s guitars to sound like Wilko Johnson jacked into a transistor radio cranked all the way, before being hurled down a staircase. I want taut, hard, groovacious rhythms. I want lyrics that sound like the minutes to the last three Socialist Workers Party meetings chewed up, swallowed, and spewed back over those rhythms. I want dub consciousness, left, right and center.
            Basically, I want “To Hell With Poverty.” I want “Anthrax.” I want “I Found That Essence Rare.” I want all three, preferably played simultaneously, 24-hours-a-day. What a fine racket that’d make it. That’s MY idea of a party.
            Thankfully, Gang of Four delivered with Content.

 (And now for a video for a track on the album I never mention in this review,  "You'll Never Pay For The Farm":)

            Mind you, I didn’t listen to any of the Go4 releases between the inaccurately titled Hard and Content, so I’ve got no basis for comparison. But from my arguably ignorant perspective, this is the most Gang of Four-sounding Gang of Four record in nearly 30 years. Yet it doesn’t sound dated. Blame it on a hard young rhythm section (drummer Mark Heaney and bassist Thomas McNeice) joining Gill and singer Jon King, perhaps. Blame it on young bands like Franz Ferdinand deciding Gang of Four were a proper starting point. Whatever the case, the first thing you notice is Gill’s highly-processed guitar stuttering into opening track “She Said ‘You Made A Thing Of Me.’” It’s a rhythmic element unto itself, and suggests Gill’s paid special attention to Tom Morello, one of his more notable guitaristic progeny. Then the mule-kickin’ rhythm section starts knocking the stall’s wall down, Jon King begins dissecting modern romance, and all is right with the world. This is truly a Go4 record.
            What’s immediately noticeable for anyone familiar with the classic Go4 records are the fatter, juicier sonics, particularly in the guitar department. In the day, Gill preferred solid state Carlsborough amps, for a clipped, neurotic, angsty timbre. It sounded like itchy nerve endings. Clearly, Gill must have invested in the interim in more modern, turbo-boosted tube amplification. His fretwork now roars with a warmer, more rounded, “brown” sound. (Ironic, considering 2nd track “You Don’t Have To Be Mad” features a riff resembling one of Eddie Van Halen’s funkier vintage offerings.)
            Content is no embarrassment. It sits nicely alongside Entertainment, or even newer Go4-influenced acts like the aforementioned Franz Ferdinand. This is a fine, danceable car crash that may make you think as your rump involuntarily twitches. That’s my idea of a dance party!

(And as a bonus, let's watch Andy Gill and Jon King's recent "What's In My Bag?" segment for Amoeba Records. I love that they're fans of Steve McQueen and reckless car chases!)


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