Gang Of Four : A Brief History Of The Twentieth Century

...uncomfortable and accessible...

A lot of music journalists who wish that they were university professors have written a lot of impenetrable guff about late ’70s post-punk heroes Gang Of Four, so instead we’ll start with a word from Flea. [I]”Gang of Four was the first rock band I could truly relate to,”[/I] he says. [I]”These limeys rocked my world.”[/I]

Yes, these four Leeds students claimed to be fighting a war against rockist cliche, were inspired by Marx, Walter Benjamin, structuralist theory and the Situationist Internationale and used to sing about sex as a business transaction. And they still managed to make the bass player from The Red Hot Chili Peppers shake his teenage rump. No mean feat.

Because, as this 20-track career retrospective proves, the Gang Of Four were always about being simultaneously uncomfortable and accessible, adapting polemic for the dancefloor in the process. Their second single (the unimpeachable avant-pop of ‘Love Like Anthrax’) featured the maxim ‘Difficult Fun’ inscribed in the runout groove: as a motto it can also be applied as much to the bands who have been inspired by this music and its sense of possibility. From Fugazi to Radio 4, !!!, The Rapture and The Futureheads, any group who combine funky syncopation with pianowire guitars, leftist politics and shouting has heard Gang Of Four.

Their reputation rests largely on the debut album, the flawless ‘Entertainment’, half of which, tellingly, is reproduced here. A noble attempt to blend icy post-punk ambience (guitarist Andy Gill claimed to ‘play’ non-solos, which were in fact, silence) with R&B and reggae, one song, ‘At Home He’s A Tourist’, even made the charts, although they were banned from Top Of The Pops for the line about ‘rubbers’. Somehow their drizzly vision of domestic drudgery, mindless consumerism and self-serving politicians was all very English, but American acclaim led to a full-on wannabe-Chic phase which peaked with the mutant disco of ‘I Love A Man In Uniform’.

Still, ‘A Brief History Of The Twentieth Century’ is the proof. These limeys – ahem – rocked.

Michael Lane

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