GANG OF FOUR
Unlike other politically aware bands in rock's past and present, England's Gang of Four does not focus its sights on the great rave-up revolution the unspecified future holds. Their songs celebrate neither street fighting men, anarchy in the U.K./U.S.A., white riots, nor much of anything. On tracks stripped clean of all musical and emotional excess, the group performs a more problematic task: an ideological, yet eminently danceable analysis of life's quiet desperation within the cultural strictures of capitalism.
Gang of Four, true to the tough working-class, punk/new wave tradition it participates in, directly confronts the inherent contradictions of its efforts. Its impressive debut album, Entertainment, is now followed by Solid Gold, and EMC import now released in this country by Warner Brothers. Both titles reflect a searingly ironic awareness on the band's part that even political protest becomes grist for the media machine ("Guerilla war struggle is a new entertainment," screams "5:45" on the first record): Harmless distractions for the bored masses, too confused and benumbed to see options for themselves in the revolts of others. Awareness of this paradox is not itself a solution, but it sure beats naiveté.
Solid Cold's first side is a bit stronger than its second, with the plainly stated lyrics and eccentric, driving rhythms of songs like "Paralysed", "What We All Want'', "Outside the Trains Don't Run on Time", and "Why Theory?" capturing the band at close to its full strength.
Like "Anthrax" on the first record, "Why Theory?" stands as a statement in defense of the band's untypical concerns. In response to the title's question, the band poses another in the song's opening lines: "People got opinions, I Where do they come from?" The failure to examine the sources of one's views leads to a state in which "Every day seems like a natural fact," in which culturally imposed conditions are seen as simply the way things are and have to be. Theory leads us out of this dead end, because "What we think changes how we act."
This is heady stuff, to be sure, but why not? Solid thinking can be invigorating and liberating, and, as Gang of Four proves, it can be accompanied by inspired, rocking music. If the Clash is the heart and soul of rock's New Left Gang of Four is its ideological standard bearer and its brains.