Few bands in the last thirty years have had as challenging a brew of music as Gang Of Four. Taking elements from punk, soul and neo-Marxist social criticism, the band created a sound that touched into so many genres but never lost it’s pop sensibility. Gang Of Four could take a droning guitar sound, couple it with a thumping bass, and pull of something that would be groovy and weird at the same time.
Content is the band’s latest studio offering and another notch in the belt of Gang Of Four. This is a groovy album that’s centered on a tremendous rhythm section and peppered with the guitar drones, wails and riffs of founding member Andy Gill. Holding everything together is the siren like vocals of Gill’s fellow founding member Jon King. It’s rare that all the parts of a band come together with this much style but still leaving room for any instrument to take the spotlight.
Content kicks off its eleven tracks in true Gang Of Four form. “She Said You Made A Thing Of Me” has an off time, stumbling sound, as if it at any moment the song might collapse on itself. That is, until the super soulful chorus brings the pop elements out in force. The song doesn’t focus itself beyond the chorus, once that’s done we’re back into a hi-hat versus bass trippy sound as Gill swirls around everything with tasty guitar pops. Hearing Gill bring that guitar into a full groove on the chorus is the exact type of timing and musical sense that makes Gang Of Four so special.
Song to song Content sounds like a mix tape, a collection of different sounds from bands from the same scene or genre. Somehow, and I still haven’t figured it out, Gang Of Four make these different songs work on a single album. Some of it is pure English post-punk, like “Who Am I”, which sounds like Television covering Talking Head songs. One of my personal favorites on the album is “I Can’t Forget Your Lonely Face” because of its melting pot of influences. There’s a touch of No Wave, Motown soul, early eighties Goth and even a dash of prog rock. Jon King’s voice is so haunting on this track, so beautiful that even with all the styles happening at once, the vocals remain in the forefront.
While King’s vocals are always a standout, you simply can’t ignore the guitar work happening on Content. Gill sounds like he’s having an absolute blast. In some sections what he’s doing sounds completely freehand, as if he turned on, listened to the drums and bass and decided to go off. At other times the guitars are very purposeful, the riffs clearly there to hold the song together and take charge of its direction. One of the shining examples of that is “I Party All The Time”, which is a showcase for King’s guitar abilities that also happens to have great vocals involved.
Some will argue that Content isn’t as experimental or bizarre as earlier Gang Of Four albums. I could concede that point if it wasn’t meant as a criticism or a predictable hipster attempt to lionize an era most of them weren’t around for. While not as earnestly different as before, Gang Of Four have developed an ease to what they do, a confidence in their vision that has been revitalized since King and Gill’s return to the band that made them legends. Content is the first original Gang Of Four album in sixteen years and the band hasn’t lost one step in originality or the ability to write kick ass rock jams. This is already, for me, a contender for album of the year.
CRAVEONLINE RATING 8 1/2 OUT OF 10