Andy Gill, the late, great lead guitarist of Gang Of Four, adorns the cover of ‘Anti-Hero’, as depicted by the acclaimed American artist Shepard Fairey, best known as the creator of the iconic ‘Hope’ poster for Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign. In the run-up to the EP’s release, Fairey spoke in elegiac terms about the “profound inspiration” that Gill offered, and his “devastation” to hear of the musician’s untimely death in February. Gill was 61.
This demonstrates just how much Gill, and the music he produced with Gang Of Four, genuinely changed the lives of those who heard it – in turn prompting some, like Fairey, to help change the world. When the Leeds post-punk band were at their best, as on their lauded 19979 debut ‘Entertainment!’, there was a genius to the ease with which they could sew uncompromising leftist politics and radical intellectualism into some of the most infectious guitar music of the last half-century.
Though their output had been patchy since the turn of the millennium, the last few years had marked something of a resurgence for the group. While their last album, 2019’s, ‘Happy Now’ was sometimes too simplistic in its attacks – the on-the-nose anti-Trump polemic ‘Ivanka: My Name’s On It’, for example – it also contained some fantastically artful songs, like ‘Toreador”s examination of the mythological Minotaur as a case study in masculinity.
When Gill died, Gang Of Four were midway through writing and recording the record’s follow-up, as well as new versions of a number of old songs, and a posthumous release from the sessions felt natural. Shortly after Gill’s death a number of tracks were released as the EP ‘This Heaven Gives Me Migraine’. With spoken word passages from Gill himself and a spirited rework of their classic early single ‘Natural’s Not In It’ and a new version of ‘Toreador’, it felt like a bittersweet, but fitting farewell to one of post-punk’s genuine greats.
Which makes ‘Anti Hero’ a slightly strange proposition: half-posthumous EP, half-tribute record. It opens with ‘Forever Starts Now’, written by Gill before he died, an icy and unnerving portrait of a manipulative partner that’s injected with Gang of Four’s trademark angular guitar attacks. Then comes ‘Day Turns To Night’, a tribute written after Gill’s death by the group’s singer John Sterry that’s uncharacteristically raw and undeniably moving, if a little clunky. “I don’t feel no regrets, just so happy we met, is it too late to say thank you?” he sings over dark and elegiac synths. Then follow two reworks: a new version of last year’s edgy and paranoid ‘Change The Locks’, among the finest of the band’s last few years of material, as well as a spirited, though unremarkable reinterpretation of 1979’s ‘Glass’.
None of ‘Anti Hero’s constituent parts are unenjoyable – ‘Forever Starts Now’ and ‘Change The Locks’ are excellent, in fact – but as a whole the EP feels more fragmented than ‘This Heaven Gives Me Migraine’. Taken alongside each other (the two are being released together as a limited edition vinyl in August), they contain enough of Gang Of Four’s final sessions to constitute a satisfying final glimpse at one of the most important bands in British history. But on its own, ‘Anti Hero’ feels just that little bit too scrappy to properly wrap things up.
Release date: July 17
Record label: Gill Music Ltd.