Gang of Four

Entertainment! (1979)


This cult classic is eminently endearing and you don’t even have to look through the clunky, cluttering guitar; up-front, in-your-face basslines; and cheap tinny production, because they’re magnetic. The Leeds quartet brought forward punk ideals into a more groove-based realm keeping with lyrics of a societal and political nature. Their vexations towards the Troubles in the North of Ireland, consumerism, classism, and violence are scholastic. Preppy college types, they compared “Contract” to Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and their artistic endeavours brought gloomy post-punk into a more pedagogic, European sphere with themes of situationism and proletarian movements. Even the album artwork depicts a cowboy and Indian conversing before the former indulges into a tasty bit of imperialism.

You may feel the criticism of wealthier classes and their liberal righteousness is trite, and you may be right, but funk and post-punk with insightful frustrated prose, no matter the political and/or economic divide, is good enough. Especially when this home-grown. (A)

Solid Gold (1981)


There’s something danceable and forceful to their sound. Education is shoved in your face and you’ll accept it, accept it as right, which it always is. Solid Gold veers slightly away from classism and more into societal values, the monotony of the working world, women’s rights and the uselessness of the armed forces.

Initially, I thought it nowhere in the vicinity of the debut, but it’s pretty close, a little clumsy and condensed absolutely, but a fine post-punk resonance continuing with their political edge. Jon King and Co. don’t like modern Britain – “Made the grade in our republic/We all are loyal subjects”, they don’t like the army – “The army has its uses/In times of civil crisis/”Allo boys! Seen any action?!'”, but they love bashing, bashing everything wrong about everything. Their boredom – “I need something to fill my time” and situationist views – “What we think changes how we act” epitomises what was felt throughout the North of England during the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

“What We All Want” is a majestic dance-punk, dark post-punk track about the void left by society and attempting to obtain entertainment but becoming bored and disillusioned with what’s around us.

It might not be as subtle and it doesn’t fill me with the urge to pick up Das Kapital like the previous effort, but the value is still there, and so am I. (A-)

Songs of the Free (1982)


Only a few months into my “professional career” *vomit* I think I’ve stumbled and stuttered upon this discriminating bunch at just the right time. The musicianship is harsh, battered, bruised and the lyrics are preaching from the “I’ve got life sorted” plateau down onto the impure masses, but I’m more than fine being bathed by the soapy locutions of socialism – “When I was in my mother’s womb/Social structure seemed such a simple thing”.

To the sexist post-punk purists, the female backing vocals delivered by Dave Allen’s replacement bassist Sara Lee and other parties will petrify and distress, fair enough, but they enhance, not the punk bits, but the new wave bits. They see the world as it is post-education – complete bollox – “We are all in competition/Better move fast, gobble up your dinner”, “(Making money is making sense) Life! It’s a shame”, “To act for the good for congressman is money/The right to get rich is in the constitution”, “I need an occupation!/You have to pay for satisfaction”.

“Try to make ends meet/You’re a slave to money then you die” as the saying goes. (A-)

Hard (1983)


This is sitting down at an exam, turning over the paper, and performing the classic “we never did this” inner monologue. The shift from leftist egalitarianism to a more materialistic form is crass and somewhat baffling. Now I admire their seamless transition through different sounds from post-punk, to new wave, to this New Romanticism kind of soft club hits idea, but I think I would’ve enjoyed this record more if they weren’t so politically and socially omniscient at the beginning.

Hugo Burnham is gone and now they’re officially a gang of three, but they garishly stuck a big “4” on the front cover with King, Gill and Lee poised for a flutter of fluffy, romantic mannerisms. It’s far more lovey-dovey, overproduced in spots and just irritating, especially when you consider their ambitions previously. “Independence” possesses small glimpses of what they had previously in store lyrically, only lyrically. Or maybe not.

“But do you realise that what I said’s not what I meant?” Hmmm. (C+)

Mall (1991)


The fact that this record is unattainable in its entirety anywhere from the usual hotbeds of Internet musicality is probably a sorry indictment of what it holds.

I can’t give it a rating as it’s very difficult to obtain. Apparently it’s a disco-ish effort with a couple of hard licks in there, and a Bob Marley cover.

Shrinkwrapped (1995)


Away from disco pap, Gang’s plunge into the alternative rock realms of the ’90s ensues.

Nothing spectacular or awe-inspiring at all, a solid alternative rock album with a catchy line here and there. Creepy stalking (“Tattoo”), chauvinism (“I Parade Myself”) and boy racers (“Better Him Than Me”).

A healthy dose of rock with some of the Andy Gill guitar of old. Some. (C+)

Return the Gift (2005)


Fourteen re-recordings of their classics from Entertainment!Solid GoldSongs of the Free and the EP release Another Day/Another Dollar. King, Gill and Allen are back with new drummer Mark Heaney.

A more polished approach, not as abrasive vocally, but doesn’t lack the punch of the older recordings as much as you’d think, they still sound good. A bit pointless unless you wish to gain a new view on how the band may have sounded recording these songs now or what they sound like live in 2005. Apparently, it was recorded to keep royalties away from EMI as the band received absolutely zilch from the original records released on said label.

An interesting dynamic, however, is Dave Allen added to the Songs of the Free re-recordings of “I Love a Man in a Uniform” and “We Live As We Dream, Alone”. The former sees the female backing vocals scrapped, it doesn’t sound as new wave and the song has more vigour, not necessarily better, but a different perspective. The latter sees a more forceful drive and it wouldn’t be out of place on the original record it must be said.

I have absolutely no issues with this, it’s fine. It does lack the youthful irritations of old, and maybe some inventiveness. You might be better off catching them live – it’s a gap filler, and wallet filler. (B-)

Content (2011)


Andy Gill’s distorted guitar of old is integrated into a lot of this record and Jon King’s vocals are modernised. If we ignore “It Was Never Gonna Turn Out Too Good” as it was never going to turn out too good, this may give the nostalgia-ridden fanboys not quite a blast, but more of a gentle squall from the past.

There are old sinews of bashing the working world and consumerism in there which are welcoming to hear with their new/old sound. Although it has come to light their consumerist outlook isn’t as veracious as we first envisaged, this shouldn’t bother said fanboys as they only live off their first two records anyway – “Where did it all begin?/Where’s the proof of life?/Who is on my side?”, “You’re never able to rest/You can’t get thoughts off your chest”, “Who can steal when everything is free?”

Though the basslines on “You Don’t Have to Be Mad” are crisp post-punk, the rhythm section with Thomas McNeice (bass) and Heaney on drums is a lot more subdued than on older records with similar sounds. Dave Allen’s flowing, punchy, lead post-punk bass is still missed.

They’re a confusing bunch. All this consumerist ambiguity doesn’t really bother me like it would with other bands, and their diverse sounds are admirable, but maybe some more consistency wouldn’t go astray. Maybe. (B)

What Happens Next (2015)


A drum ‘n’ bass, electronic rock monstrosity. What’s left of the Gang has recruited the likes of The Kills’ Alison Mosshart, the German Herbert Grönemeyer and the American Gail Ann Dorsey to name but a few, to perform some vocals, backing vocals, middle vocals and other vocals.

If you think they’re “selling out” or ever were, you’re a fuckwit. As mentioned previously, the Gang’s diverse reverberations over the years are to be admired, from funk and post-punk, to new wave, to disco, to alternative rock, to this, and never ever completely falling flat on their faces is, whether you like it or not, a bit of a victory. This album is kind of a soundtrack to a 21st-century, end of the world, apocalypse, dark dystopia kind of scene. Even the album cover gives you the Orwellian Nineteen Eighty-Four spooks.

The dense “Isle of Dogs” and the electronic waves of “Stranded” are sure to fill the soul with amiable pleasure, but a lacklustre attempt that contains no sense of consistency with a wide range of vocalists from different backgrounds is difficult to comprehend.

Gill’s vivacious guitar is lost in spots. Not the Gang. (C)