Gang of Four – Content

It was hardly a safe bet that the new Gang of Four album would yield much Entertainment, let alone Solid Gold. After all, we’re talking about a band nearly three decades removed from its landmark releases, with two forgettable comeback attempts already dotting the discography (anyone pulled out their copy of Mall recently?) The return of the original lineup for this latest iteration sparked hope, but Content has been brewing for so long that the rhythm section again recused themselves – the band’s made a great record without bassist Dave Allen (1982’s Songs of the Free) but not without drummer Hugo Burnham. On the plus side, Gang of Four have never lost their live fury, and as the most appropriated band of the past decade’s DFA-fueled dance rock revival, Andy Gill and Jon King may finally have hit on their “right place, right time” moment.

Content suffers no shortage of fervor, as King and Gill deploy the building blocks you’d expect and want from them – essentially a hybrid of Entertainment and Songs of the Free, with a heavier dose of rockist muscle. Gill’s guitar work remains caustic and inventive – give the man kudos for opening with an unfamiliar rumbling riff on “She Said” before trotting out his trademark staccato bursts (oddly, he most frequently hearkens back to the syncopated scratch of “Natural’s Not in It,” which a cynic might connect to its recent use in an Xbox commercial). Meanwhile, King’s voice seems a bit more world-weary. The real news would be if he hadn’t worn down over 28 years, but he nonetheless bears the brunt of comparison to his irrepressible younger self.

Standout “I Party All the Time” is a refresher of the Go4’s tried and true “fiddle while Rome’s burning” political worldview, set to newcomer Mark Heaney’s martial, “Man in a Uniform” drumming. Even the disc’s dual-meaning title recalls earlier cerebral aims, simultaneously referencing both the numbed masses and the band’s own role as purveyors of merchandise. They’re one for two when eventually shifting gears to pensive, downtempo tracks, with the genuinely hummable “Fruitfly in the Beehive” making the grade.

In 2005 Gang of Four re-recorded many of its early ’80s tracks in an awkward bid to establish new millennium relevance – this new set is a much better idea. Content can’t compete with the Gang of Four’s classics, but it rises well above curiosity status. It sounds timely even for twentysomethings unfamiliar with “To Hell with Poverty” or “Anthrax,” and stands a decent shot of being worth revisiting five years from now.

Gang of Four
[Yep Roc]