via New York Times
GANG OF FOUR
C O N T E N T(Yep Roc)
by Jon Pareles
[view original article]
Three decades after it got started, Gang of Four still bristles.
Remember the future
It was good in the past
It’s an adjustment
The pain doesn’t last,
That’s what John King sings in “Second Life,” from C O N T E N T, the band’s first album in 16 years.
Gang of Four arrived in the late 1970s with harshly danceable songs that depicted human relationships turning into commodities. Its jagged, sometimes virtually atonal grooves still echo through everything now called post-punk. And its lyrics, which at the time sounded dourly materialistic, grew all too prophetic for an era when corporations tally up their Facebook “likes” online, and athletes, musicians and people writing personal ads all treat themselves as brand names with images to protect. “She Said,” the opening song on C O N T E N T, bluntly declares: “You made a thing of me/And what I am is what you see.”
Gang of Four lost its initial momentum with a career that straggled into the 1990s as the band tried slicker, more electronic pop and dance music. A 2004 reunion of the original 1970s lineup led to touring but no new finished songs. Now Gang of Four’s songwriters — Mr. King, on lead vocals, and the guitarist Andy Gill — have a new rhythm section. And they have reclaimed, with a vengeance, their old attack.
Once again, Gang of Four delivers a raw, syncopated wallop. The staggered impacts of Mark Heaney’s drums, Thomas McNeice’s bass and Mr. Gill’s guitar — with its glassy rhythm chops and staccato, distorted lead lines — make Mr. King’s terse vocal melodies bob and weave as if they were dodging bursts of flak. Punk, funk and reggae contribute to the sound — along with hints of math-rock, Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie — only to get caught up in the music’s precise melee.
The production on C O N T E N T isn’t as stark as it was on Gang of Four’s 1979 masterpiece, “Entertainment”; there’s more resonance and more willingness to overdub. But the effect is just as brawny and combative.
The lyrics stay hard-nosed. The punky “Never Pay for the Farm” obliquely blasts the bankers behind the financial meltdown — “You can’t get back what you bet” — and “Do as I Say” considers authority and interrogations, from the Inquisition to Guantanamo.
Other songs look at characters enmeshed in commerce or consoling themselves with digital-era flirtations — “You look good with no clothes on/I’ll take photos on my phone,” Mr. King offers in “You Don’t Have to Be Mad.” The album’s one relative respite, “A Fruitfly in the Beehive” — a ballad melody over ticking drums and shards of guitar — wonders, “Where are we headed for?/For a distant shore or some brand-new war?” Gang of Four has girded itself for both possibilities.
C O N T E N T is available now on CD, LP and digitally at the Yep Roc Webshop.