Wednesday, May 11, 2011
#40 Gang of Four-Entertainment!
Artist: Gang of Four
Gang of Four's Entertainment! is so perfect it's tragic. In the months since I originally concocted a best-of list, I've regained my love of this album and haven't felt this much love for it in years...really since the numbing effects of modern-day rip-off artists (mid-early 2000s dance punkers) made me put it down for a while. But away from a place where I'm listening to new music over and over again, I can enjoy it for what it is: a perfect debut. Absolutely astounding, and I can't stress enough that this album would likely be 10-20 places higher if I re-did the list right now. But whatever, on to the record.
Gang of Four were not some original band that existed in a vacuum, separated from all contemporaries and peers. Like most great music scenes, they did their best work at a time of highly prolific artistic output from a certain geographic area, and put their own spin on the music. Their fierce, razor sharp guitars, a punk take on R&B and reggae, was akin to that of PiL and The Fall. They certainly had the former's penchant for blasts of funk as well, and their place in the pantheon of post-punk from that era is certainly cemented, at least partially, from that sound. Their politics, while a bit more academic and well-articulated than some of their peers (Pop Group) were also not that far off the map from their peers. I repeat my earlier point, that while so much current discussion of this band and this album calls out these points as essential and influential...the band really weren't alone!
So what does separate Entertainment! from its peers? Simple: pop. There's a catchy-ness and ability to sing along throughout the album not unlike the kind that makes Ramones and Black Flag songs so worth singing along to. Pop-punk can be generic chord progressions and time signatures, but punk rock with a dose of pop music can be great. Choruses and verses...standard structure...and really that's what sets the album apart from its peers. While PiL ripped off Big Youth and Lee Scratch Perry and Pop Group took cues from Ornette Coleman, Gang of Four kept the structure of the songs simple, knowing that the sound and lyrics would be revolutionary enough on their own.
It's also a superb album that's built around moments: In "5.45" as the song reaches its final chorus, we hear "Guerilla war struggle is the new entertainment" over a huge crescendo of crashing cymbals and downstrokes. The moment as we leave the chorus from "Damanged Goods" and go back into the "Your kiss so sweet/your sweat so sour." The album is really a perfect pop album, with excellent choruses that build tension and provide an incredible release (as most/all great pop music does!) That these songs are built around visceral lyrics and aggressive guitars and funky rhythm just adds to its awesomeness.
The twelve songs here are really all you need from Gang of Four. I could go on a rant about how disappointing it's follow-up is, but that's not really the point. Some post-punk bands had one or two great moments and then dulled themselves into obscurity; some made one moment of genius and exploded/imploded; very very few were able to consistently make great/relevant music past those initial few albums (The Fall come to mind, obviously, and after them it seems only the likes of Wire and New Order come close). But there's nothing wrong with a band just having one great album, especially amongst Gang of Four's peers-it's a triumph really. One of the finest punk debuts ever. Not dated at all, and as fresh as ever.