Thursday, April 2, 2009

April 2: Gang Of Four, "Entertainment!"

Artist: Gang Of Four
Album: Entertainment!
Year: 1979
Label: EMI

Bob Marley once sang, "...if you know your history, then you will know where you're coming from..." While in most cases, the central cogs in the history of music are well known, there are always cases where the pivotal bands more or less fell by the wayside. From the sounds of hardcore and post-punk to rap-metal and hip-hop, they all owe some of their sound to the bands like The Fall and Gang Of Four. Gang Of Four represents another group that didn't make a bad record, but their 1979 debut, Entertainment! is nothing short of phenomenal.

Groups like Rage Against The Machine, Fugazi, and many other bands have cited Gang Of Four as a major influence on their sound. The sound that they present on Entertainment! is hard to NOT compare to the sound of fellow countrymen, The Fall. The spoken, poetic vocals over under-produced music is a common thread between the bands. However, the music of Gang Of Four is FAR more organized, and the vocals are more understandable and focused. There are points on Entertainment! where the listener can even hear the building blocks for what would become the "new wave" scene in the 1980's. The fact that so many different genres were birthed from this record makes it even more strange that the band did not reach great commercial success. But, the fact remains that Entertainment! is undoubtedly the beginning of these musical styles.

Raw, dry, rhythmic guitars, intelligent vocals, and enough attitude to be on par with any punk band, Gang Of Four took the punk aesthetic and truly gave the sound and style a political aspect. The sound of Gang Of Four is clearly the foundation of the "DIY" music scene. The production gives a new meaning to the word "minimal," yet the sounds all sound complete and professional. Throughout Entertainment!, the guitar tone keeps a consistently "tinny" tone, and at times borders on feeding back. This helps to keep the mood of a band that plays with such urgency, it often times approaches a feeling that the song is going to fall apart. The unprocessed, frantic drumming drives the music and gives the entire album the unending feeling of intensity. The basswork on Entertainment! actually gives the record a bit of a dose of funk and the combination of all of these diverging sounds truly makes the record sound like nothing else that was around at the time.

Lyrically, Entertainment! still stands as one of the most daring and original records ever recorded. While many punk bands go after subjects like "the establishment" and capitalism, Gang Of Four attacks things like sexual politics ("Damaged Goods") and revisionist history ("Not Great Men.") One of the more interesting vocals occurs Entertainment!'s closing song, "Anthrax." The vocal duties are split, and while one sings of the similarities between love and disease (Jon King), the other vocalist (Andy Gill) muses in the background on the subject of why Gang Of Four does not sing love songs. The delivery of Jon King is clear and pointed, with none of his lyrical genius being lost in mumbles or behind the music. This fact is also significant as most punk bands at that point were still screaming their words and attempting to overcome the massive wall of sound being created by their band. Again, along with groups like The Clash, this is where we first find the change in which the vocals of punk become just as important as the music and intensity of the band.

Pioneering a new genre is a daunting task, and that is why most bands that achieve such a feat do not realize it until well after the event occurs. In the late 1970's, the aesthetic of punk rock was being pushed and pulled into a number of new directions. Taking the attitude and minimalist sound, and combining it with smart, meaningful lyrics, Gang Of Four spawned many new genres. Attacking new ideas that had never before been referenced in music, the band showed that there is truly nothing "off limits" if you can write a good lyric. In their seven year career, they released five brilliant records. However, their debut release, Entertainment! is nothing short of a masterpiece and is an essential part of the evolution of music.

Standout tracks: "Ether," "Damaged Goods," and "Anthrax."

No comments: