Review Summary: Most should assume that Jon King’s echoing of “I feel like a beetle on my back” is the reflection of modern Gang of Four, an unkind ironic line, but Content says otherwise.
Maybe Gang of Four’s relevance hasn’t fallen, but it was quite obvious what happened to their popularity post-1981. Like so many bands of any time, a brief dispute can wreck and splinter a group to have both undesired results and abysmal direction. Gang of Four, as their name suggests, are or more appropriately were, a post-punk Leeds band between the years of 1979 and 1982 comprised of 4 members. Were because once they released one of the biggest and obvious cash grabs of the time, throwing away their style of clever spites about government, religion, sexism, love, consumerism and all of the above for disco. It was clear then that this band would never be the same. Hard
, as it was called, released in 1983 with more or less the last two and most important members of the group singer Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill. Still, it was clear that King still had the chops lyrically, but Gill seemed lost with the new vision the group had somehow stumbled into. Once they re-formed to record for their 1991 release of Mall
, an album that showcases some of their brilliance, but ultimately failed in terms of sound. Before Content
was released this year, 1995’s Shrinkwrapped
was their last effort. The album felt like an outline or copy for Alternative groups they had spawned, but the production offered huge amounts of distortion. The best was their though, Gill had found his direction. Gill was menacing and more importantly showed a sprawling catharsis of their previous garbage, it sounded as if the band were whole once more. It had shed some light on where Gang of Four was approaching if they ever released new material. A lot like the acts they played with in their post-punk heyday, all have them had changed directions and the movement died along with those decisions decades ago, but Content
still offers subtle hints of Entertainment
with modern sensibility.
Jon King is and always will be uncompromising with his harsh, sometimes deadly provoking of political commentary and when he succeeds the band has always been better for it. Gang of Four is a political band, without King’s witty metaphorical lines the replay ability of their work wouldn’t be there. It is what drives them their work. Much like Bad Religion, The Clash, Mission of Burma, Black Flag, etc. without actually believing they had an influence upon the very things they speak would be motivationally draining and we would all see through it. The Clash’s last effort was laughable, it was apparent the life of struggle against anything was over. Maybe that’s why they decided to come back, another commentary 16 years after observing all of what happened or maybe a simple break was needed. Content
does sound like another scathing comment on common world issues in many instances, it may not be as jarring or sporadic for both Gill and King as say in Entertainment!
, but they would be probably be impossible at this point. You should notice that as consistent as say King has been vocally, it had been the opposite for Gill. His guitar post-Songs For The Free
was average at best and his vocal chorus chants were nonexistent. Thankfully Content
brings back Gang of Four’s post-punk attitude and style, but is marginally masked behind newer forms of production in the music.
It isn’t nonsense to claim Content
is their best since Solid Gold
, but the sound is portrayed within the context of a toned-down production of Shrinkwrapped
, far less distortion and noise, but still audibly noticeable. “She Said You Made A Thing of Me” starts in traditional Gang of Four style with lulling bassline in the background as King leads for most of the song until Gill decides to pierce and stab his way into the picture, much like the old days of 1979. The ones that have been missing from the group for many albums, where Gill can take a track on a spiral without hesitation while the rest of the group holds everything in place without a hitch.
This is where it shows that Gang of Four may be back in form. Disregard the sharp distorted feedback on the song and you’ll be reminded of some old classics such as “If I Could Keep It For Myself”, “In The Ditch”, “The Republic”, “Guns For Butter” and so on. King may not be as lyrically biting as his previous efforts, but Content
still conveys the message well on “I Can’t Forget Your Lonely Face”. The group was for political messages in their early days. Their newest lauds a different straightforward significance as opposed to the symbolic rhetoric King usually threw in his songs. Unfortunately, one of them is the main low point of the album – “It Was Never Going to Turn out Too Good” is one of the more wearisome and laughable moments in this and Gang of Four’s history of misfires. Robotic voice samples bring a wild ride to a standstill, but Gang of Four still manages to pull through for the majority of the album. What is the more interesting fact in the song are King’s vocals almost sound David Bowie-esque when he does decide to break the monotony, but the song clearly is a sore within the album. Where it succeeds is probably the funniest song I can think of in quite some time. “I Party All the Time” is a reminder of both past and present, simultaneously bashing themselves for their past transgressions, corrupt politicians, and the disco scene all at once. An idiosyncratic statement about themselves and they look to be better for it. It looks as if the band isn’t done just yet; they still rip on modern political policy, specifically the Iraqi War and consumerism. What is the more promising moments on Content
are the reminders of past, where “You Don’t Have To Be Mad” is an almost descendant of “Naturals Not In It” in both lyrical prowess and the always desirable cutting guitar.
may stand as a surprise because it doesn’t break down so easily like the rest of their discography after ’81. King still stands as a master at quick punches and Gill luckily has found his form with the band that he helped put on the map. The one pressing issue coming on Content
(besides those two key components) is of course the production. Entertainment!
and Solid Gold
both disregarded major changes to their sound via production and it’s why they remain their best. It is a fairytale to expect the group not opt for more modern production on an album nowadays; you cannot expect an album to sound something they made 30 years ago, but unlike Shrinkwrapped
where it had become a nuisance in some stages and more of a noise inducer, Content
tones it down a few notches. The key pieces are here for Gang of Four to set a comeback in their recent effort. After 16 years of inactivity there are still areas for improvement, but the light shines bright; from the bass groove in “I Can See From Far Away” that reminds us of “5.45” to the reminders of political lies. Gang of Four aren’t the beetles on their back we all assumed they were quite yet.