On First Listen
Gang of Four

By: Ian Mathers

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Posted 04/13/2006 - 07:24:06 AM by raskolnikov:
 Wow, this is a tough assessment of a great record. Perhaps you should apply these standards to some of the modern bands you review on this site. Does a slightly enjoyable but totally, unbelievably derivative band like Witch deserve to be praised while the Gang of 4's Entertainment gets slapped around due to Mr. Mathers' attempt to expose an allegedly unacknowledged aesthetic debt to Wire? Does tripe like the YYY's deserve laudatory treatment, when a band like the Gang of Four gets dissed? I suggest that because so many recent bands have blatantly and poorly ripped off the Gang of Four that perhaps their sound is not as "original" as it once may have been. That is a paradox to be sure. "Entertainment" is a great record; to imply anything less is to play around with musical evidence. Mathers neglects to mention songs like "Ether" or "Not Great Men"--how is that possible? A song like "Ether" sounds even more prescient today...lastly I think Mr. Mathers has really stretched himself in attempt to make a very debatable point about Wire's influence upon Gang of Four's sound. Wire had none of the rhythmic fluidity or dexterity that Gang of Four had; to my ears their biggest similarity lay in the areas lyrical perspective and thematic concerns--the personal as political was a huge part of both bands' worldviews. Wire could not play their instruments as well as Gill, Burnham, and Allen could--and their "Chairs Missing" LP is the record that sounds dated to me. Bad phaseshifter and flanger parts abound on the guitars on that record, and Wire's rhythym section is limp compared to the ferocity of Burnham and Allen. Maybe a second and third listen would be in order, Mr. Mathers.
Posted 04/13/2006 - 08:10:16 AM by MEKsLP:
 And no one has mentioned what is one of the greatest punk songs ever? If you didn't get going at least a little for Damaged Goods then I don't know what to say in responce.
Posted 04/13/2006 - 08:54:35 AM by bulb64:
 I agree the Wire tips a bit of a reach, but I liek the fact that the 'youngster" admits he might like the derivative stuff more and then attemots to explain why. The wrong approach to take with the kids (I'll be 42 next week) is to lecture thme about how FF is just a shitty retread of Gof4. I always try the gentler "if you like that, check this out as when a colleagues son was waxing ecstatic about Godlfinger a decade or so ago and I suggested he get the Specials, The Specials and The English Beat, I Just Can't Stop It. As to the undeniable greatness of Entertainment!, heresy it may be, btu i see it as great record with some flaws myself. And yes, some of the response to the record has to do with their amazing live shows in that period. "Damaged Goods," "Anthrax," and "I Found That Essence Rare," however, are perfection personified. If Greil Marcus doesn't like my conclusions, so what!
Posted 04/13/2006 - 10:09:33 AM by IanMathers:
 I didn't review the Yeah Yeah Yeah's record; in fact, I haven't even heard it and am in no hurry to do so.
Posted 04/13/2006 - 10:17:06 AM by Zoffferinty:
 angular means jagged, sharp-edged, not "round" or assonant, but consonant. like a "t" sound rather than a long "o"
Posted 04/13/2006 - 10:23:14 AM by boilingboy:
 Good, and brave, assessment. The point about new retreads vs. old proginators is rarely acknowledged in this context. I came of age in the original post punk period, and it's still my favorite music. Much is made now of ripping off early-80s glories. However, there's a big difference between approximating the sound of an influence, and really understanding what made them great. The Back Room is lame shit, but "Turn On the Bright Lights" evokes that threatening, chugging guitar pulse that all comes from Wire. By the way, Wire DID influence everybody; and their music is still facinating/relevant because they knew (and know) how to be tuneful. A big reason that critics love Gang of Four is because of the lyrical potency. Remember, most music critics were English majors. Ask yourself: Would Dylan be so great without the lyrics? Would he continue to be worshipped by Rolling Stone magazine, 40 years after his defining work? I like MUSIC, and though I've always liked Gang of Four, I'm not ashamed to say I like Silent Alarm better than Entertainment. Heresy!
Posted 04/13/2006 - 12:09:50 PM by Zarklephaser:
 Good, honest piece.
Posted 04/13/2006 - 02:31:59 PM by cc3tim:
 Ian, This is a great article. I think that attacking our heroes is important (and certainly warranted this time around, especially with the Return the Gift album). I noticed the Wire connection recently as well. However, i don't think the reason that the songs are still poignant today is due either to the state of the world or the band's own foresight. I think it's more related to the band's use of a Marxist critical approach. Man, what a stupid bloated comment this is. I hate academia.
Posted 04/13/2006 - 05:09:00 PM by Contrasoma:
 Articles like these are the epitome of what's great about this column's format: anachronisms that work (pretty sure "Entertainment" predates "Closer" by a year but the similarity is striking), new points of comparison (Wire influence? Yes and no.) and most importantly bait for the "no, you just don't GET IT" impulse that we all develop as we and the records we love age. I'd much rather be forced to rethink why I listen to the stuff I do than become some echo of a boomer snidely reminding younger generations that they'll never really get rock since they didn't see the Stones in their heyday or whatnot.

If you liked the "Yellow" stuff more than "Entertainment!" it's well worth your while to go on to "Solid Gold." The attention to atmosphere is expanded upon greatly.
Posted 04/13/2006 - 10:38:43 PM by wmdavidson:
 Great piece. It actually inspired this Wire fan to finally get around to ordering "Entertainment!" on Amazon. I'm sure I'll enjoy. Thanks.