Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gang of Four Content?

I'm old. Like it was put in the not-quite-brilliant "Knocked up": I'm not old for the world, but I'm old for this club. That's fine with me. One day I'll be dead, and that will be the time for assessing my relative worth, but until then, I want to contribute whatever I can, even if that's easily dismissed, or rejected outright.
Likewise, much of my taste is old, and all of my aesthetics were set in granite, years ago. So, even if I like something new, my reasons for liking it are probably old. I'm good with that, even if you might not be.
All this brings me to the new Gang of Four release "C O N T E N T". I think it's brilliant, 5 stars, 10 out of 10, etc. I'm probably the exact target audience, though. See, the two core members are about 10 years older than me. The band dates to the late 1970's, and more than a decade separates this release from their last collection of newly penned material. That means that like me, though this release may be new, they are old, and it's coming from an old place. Again, for me, the relevancy of this is only in positing the relationship between us- you, the potential reader, and me and my tastes, aesthetics, and so on. I, personally, prefer the somewhat outmoded sensibility that informs this newest release. They're not making a dubstep record, here, nor would I want them to- even if that would have a better critical reception (not that it has a bad reception- just not quite as fawning).
There are those who would hear the mildly leftist lyrics, and conflate that with their fearsome reputation as hardcore Marxists, and dismiss them based upon that misunderstanding, and misinterpretation. First of all, they are simply a rock band. They aren't the propaganda arm of any people's liberation front. The band members probably do vote fairly left of center, and express their world view honestly- but just as it's unfair to view an artist as a republican or as a christian in that the art is the art, the man is the man, and the worldview is the setting- I don't think any political party would want these songs as anthems, because they express anxiety and self-doubt more so than any political platform.
Likewise, there are those who would blame them for not more fully embracing the new media models. Before release, they had toyed with some of this; they had a pledge site for a crowd-sourcing option for producing this release, but seem to have abandoned it. Further, on tracks like "Who Am I?" appear to be questioning new media models. I think, again, this is due to them being, like me, somewhat outmoded, but still trying to contribute to the discussion. Please note that other older artists, like Tony James and Mick Jones from Carbon/Silicon, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails, and Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre are contributing to various degrees to this same debate, and everyone appears to be trying to adjust their old-world sensibilities to the new world of media. I think some models are fairly doomed, like pledge sites. Sure, they will work for a limited time, while people are excited by the new model, but when it comes down to producing the finished art, it's an individual thing, and cannot be effectively crowdsourced. Someone has to have executive control- it's unsurprising to me that old guys like the Gang of Four would revert to the traditional model, but it doesn't have to end that way- I could see a modification to the model- maybe crowdsource the selection of producers to a limited pool- maybe crowdsource remixes- maybe competing releases- one traditional, the other crowdsourced, but still, I don't see ceding creative control, or ceding distribution rights as a fully workable model. Then again, I'm old. I'm excited by the new ideas, but I revert back to form- I got this as a download from a traditional site, and immediately burned it to CD/hard drive. I will admit that I even can see the allure in a major label, or in buying a physical CD at a chain store. So, even though I'm trying to adopt some of the new media, I cannot make the full journey.( at the same time, if they didn't deliver what they promised, people who donated should be compensated)
On a far less meta level- why do I think you should listen to this? Because even minus half the band, this stuff burns like no other "post punk". There are moments where you will be reminded of everything from David Bowie to Jello Biafra, and from Bloc Party to Zounds. All the while, they never give up sounding like the Gang of Four that you should remember. This is because their influence is huge, and their scope is deep. The lyrics still sting, and are full of multiple meanings. This really is top-notch stuff.


  1. Really? I listened to the stream on their site and I couldn't get through the whole thing. Hell, I couldn't even get through a whole song. This is the shittiest record from a band I used to like that I've heard in a long time. Auto-tune on vocals? WTF?!?! Firing Dave Allen and Hugo Burnham was stupid. To downplay their contribution to the first two (absolutely essential) records is ludicrous. Andy Gill and Jon King have become self-important attention whores, selling their anti-materialist songs to hawk Xbox. Again, WTF?!? I wouldn't care so much about the "sell-out" if the music wasn't so god-awful. Jesus Christ! I get more pissed off, the more I think about it. Fuck. "Solid Gold" is my favorite record of ALL TIME. This record, like all the others post-Songs of the Free (excluding Return The Gift, which was briefly back to the original lineup), is total and utter shite. Makes me sad. Makes me angry. Oh well, they ARE old. Moving on...

  2. Rusty- Fair enough, you don't like it. I do. A few things, though- Dave Allen and Hugo Burnham weren't fired- they declined to participate. Burnham was on record against doing any new material, and Allen is over-committed as it stands ( Allen was my favorite member, BTW. I Liked his sensibilities so much that I even own a Low Pop Suicide record or two).
    As for the licensing to XBox- that was actually done by EMI/Warners who actually own the song.
    Again, not trying to make you like it, or anything, but while they have probably "sold out" it's not exactly in that fashion. I think the more palpable sell out would be what Gill has done as a producer, but that's me.

  3. Oh, and I do agree about Auto tune grating pretty badly on a track or two- but honestly the vocals aren't nearly as over-processed as the vocals are over-processed on a number of recent releases I'm thinking of the new Wire record, but also on the last Killing Joke record- and I could get over it for those records, so maybe I'm softening a bit on Auto tune, I don't know- my bottom line is that I do really like this new Gang of Four record- and I didn't care for Mall or Shrink wrapped, so I'm not quite a brainless fan-boy- I just like the new record, a lot. Maybe it's a lapse in taste, and so be it, but I'm also digging the new Karysun record, but I've just had it for a day, so I'm not yet ready to comment on that- make of that what you will....