To reform, or not to reform? For many grey haired rockers, post punks and 90s indie sorts, the answer has of late been in the affirmative. The results of these reformations have been mixed. The Go-Betweens and Mission of Burma both picked up like they never stopped, successfully pushing their original sounds to new horizons. Others, like the Sex Pistols and the Pixies, are clearly in it for more monetary reasons.
Gang of Four, the Leeds politico-post-punks who influenced everyone from the Chili Peppers to LCD Soundsystem, have reformed not once, but twice. First in the late 1980s, resulting in 1991’s Mall and 1995’s Shrinkwrapped albums, and then 2004 – a time when the jagged punk funk that fuelled their agitprop rage became the de facto sonic template for a post-punk revival.
Seeped in critical theory, Gang of Four were always a band who preferred singing about ideas instead of merely rolling out the standard pop tropes. Why write a love song when you can pen a scathing critique of the very concept. Add an angry young man’s sneer and punk funk squall to the mix and you end up with their seminal first two albums, 1979’s Entertainment! and its follow-up of 1981, Solid Gold.
Content is the group’s first collection of new material since Shrinkwrapped. Conceptually, they’re still favouring ideas over emotions. Starting with the premise that all creative art forms are now reduced to filler for the "advertising sandwich", the band attempts to extend the idea out to a larger rumination on human existence and perception.
Unfortunately, the tepid alt-rock of opener She Said ‘You Made a Thing of Me’ does little to support the band’s thesis, with only guitarist Andy Gill’s singular tones penetrating an otherwise murky musical haze. Who Am I? serves up an exploration of personal identity in the era of on-demand media but, again, it collapses against a thin backdrop of anaemic indie-funk. I Was Never Gonna Turn Out Too Good finds singer Jon King in a duet with a Vocodered robot voice lamenting its life of servitude. It’s the lone standout on an otherwise turgid record, but that’s only by virtue of its sheer oddness.
Does Content permanently tarnish Gang of Four’s status as legendary statesmen of leftfield rock? No, but even the greatest leaders must step back from the limelight at some point, and perhaps that time has again come for King, Gill and company.
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