Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is ‘Entertainment!’ by post-punk heroes Gang Of Four.
The political fury that drove Gang Of Four’s début album can be seen just by glancing at the cover. On it, a small cartoon strip of a Native American and a cowboy shaking hands appears. The text wrapped around it says: “The Indian smiles, he thinks that the cowboy is his friend… The cowboy smiles, he is glad the Indian is fooled… Now he can exploit him”.
‘Entertainment’ was released in 1979 at a time when English music was going through a fascinating period of reinvention. Post-punk bands like Joy Division, The Pop Group and Wire were experimenting with music in a way no one had before. After the simplicity and nihilism of punk, these bands sought to put the art back into music and Gang Of Four wanted to put in place a message that was more constructive than Anarchy In The UK.
Gang of Four was made up of four arts students from Leeds. Like most arts students, they thought they had something interesting to say to the world. Unlike most arts students, they actually did. The topics discussed here include consumerism, sexual politics, IRA political prisoners, class warfare, Marxist theory, pop lyrics… You may need to do a bit of searching on Wikipedia to fully appreciate the lyrics that Jon King barks out.
Clever lyrics are all well and good of course but the music here is just as revolutionary. The band have the same guitar-bass-drums set-up that most punk bands had but there are subtle elements of funk and reggae music that make a huge difference to their sound. The emphasis on rhythm and groove meant that this was music you could actually dance to. You can dance to The Sex Pistols as well but it mostly involves jumping up and down. The harsh staccato guitar-playing style of Andy King is a counterpoint to the funky rhythm section and this balances out their sound perfectly.
This combination of danceable grooves and uncompromising sounds has influenced countless bands in the years since. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, Nirvana, Fugazi… All these bands have declared themselves disciples. Even bands who don’t realise it have been touched by ‘Entertainment!’. Bloc Party claimed to have never really listened to the band but compare Banquet or Helicopter to the likes of Natural’s Not In It or Damaged Goods and you can see there is a clear connection.
At a time when the issues that Gang Of Four sang about are as clear and present as ever, it’s frustrating that today’s indie groups seem so apathetic. It’s hard to imagine Arctic Monkeys recording a song called Guns Before Butter about living in Nazi Germany. As a band that regularly had to deal with Neo-Nazis attacking their audiences at shows, perhaps the stakes were just higher for Gang of Four. Now seems a good time to revisit their masterpiece début however. If the spirit of ’79 could work its way into music again, things would be a lot more interesting.
Did you enjoy this weeks edition of Golden Vault? Get involved, comment below and join us next week in the Golden Vault where we’ll be discussing ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ by Teenage Fanclub.