Gang of Four disc tastefully released

By Greg Dunlap

Despite the fact that Gang of Four first uttered these words over 10 years ago, the lyric remains as applicable to today’s society as it did back in 1979. As a matter of fact, in the brief period the band was around, Gang of Four was consistently ahead of its time.

Case in point. In 1980 the band was supposed to appear on “Top of the Pops,” (England’s answer to “American Bandstand,”) but was not allowed to play because of a line in the song “At Home He’s a Tourist” which read, “The rubbers you hide in your top left pocket.” Sound familiar?

Until recently, the only way one could enjoy the blessed rhythms of Gang of Four on CD was by wishful thinking. However, in a rare display of good taste and decency, Warner Brothers has just released “A Brief History of the Twentieth Century” which compiles tracks from all four of Gang of Four’s LPs.

Thankfully, the majority of the record focuses on the group’s first two albums “Entertainment!” and “Solid Gold.” These records were marked by a sparse stripped-down sound. The songs are very restrained yet filled with an immeasurable tension which forces the listener along.

The song “Anthrax” is a perfect example. The first minute and a half is no more or less than guitarist Andy Gill scraping his guitar up and down the strings while it feeds back into eternity. Then six lone notes come ringing out of nowhere and in comes this primal drumbeat with a simple bass riff pounding away behind it.

This drum/bass interplay is basically all that propels the song along for the rest of its length (aside from the occasional burst of feedback from Gill.) But despite its bare bones and lack of structure, “Anthrax” is one of the most powerful and convincing statements to come from the punk rock era. How can you argue with a song whose chorus is “Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax/And that’s something I don’t wanna catch.”

While Gang of Four’s later material wasn’t nearly as powerful as what had come before, periodic flashes of their past do shine through. One such occasion is “We Live as We Dream, Alone,” which shows once and for all that a brilliant lyric can save what is actually a fairly basic tune (sample line: “We were not born in isolation, but sometimes it seems that way. We live as we dream, alone”).

Gang of Four’s influence has been felt in bands across the board from Big Black to R.E.M. (Michael Stipe was singing lyrics to “We live as We Dream, Alone” before R.E.M. would play “World Leader Pretend” on their last tour, and the introduction for Big Black’s classic “Cables” was ripped almost directly from “Anthrax”). And now it’s ever so easy for you to go and find out why.