In the post-punk pantheon, Joy Division are the hallowed saints, Public Image Ltd. the revered innovators, and The Fall the poets of the bizarre. But none of those three acts have been as disproportionately influential as Gang of Four; hell, those three bands, despite their reputation, legacies, and beloved output, may not be as influential as Gang of Four combined.
Perhaps I'm overstating the case, but, if you went out to a rock venue in the mid-'00s —a whole quarter-of-a-century after Gang of Four issued their classic debut LP, 1979's Entertainment!— you were almost guaranteed to find someone aping that Gang of Four sound. The boingy, propulsive bass; the metronomic drumming; the guitar sharp, shrill, dry, wiry.
Gang of Four had long been an incredibly influential entity; the American underground of the '80s was a veritable Gang of Four love-fest, with bands ranging from staunchly-political outfits like Fugazi and Big Black, to college-rock crossover cases like REM and the Red Hot Chili Peppers citing the influence of the English post-punks. The Minutemen owed them a ridiculous debt; Kurt Cobain idolized them.
But, yet, this '00s Gang of Four redux was something else entirely. Bands like Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand sounded less like artists influenced by Gang of Four, more like facsimiles. Concurrently, the rise of disco-punk revivalists like Out Hud, !!!, LCD Soundsystem, and The Rapture introduced another movement of bands steeped in the sound of Entertainment!.
Amidst this revival, Gang of Four were, themselves, born anew: if you went to a house party, chances are "Damaged Goods" was coming on in between "House of Jealous Lovers" and "Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard," and the kids would keep dancing without missing a beat.
Entertainment! has an interesting relationship to that place its tunes have so often ended up: the dancefloor. In many ways, these songs have no place being seen as such 'entertainments' (yes, the LP title is ironic), no place providing only rhythms for gymnastic gyrations. The Gang of Four Sound is defined by things that are hardly dancefloor fodder: Jon King's sarcastic anti-Capitalist slogans and Andy Gill's scratchy guitar, which has a tone like metal filings and a delivery like a shovel scraping along gravel.
Yet, Dave Allen's elastic bass brought the funk, unironically; drawing from funk and disco as it thumped and strutted, daring feet to get moving. The effect was to make Gang of Four's stark, oft-atonal post-punk to seem infinitely friendly; its tunes, buoyed by the repetition of the sloganeering, playing like some kind of alien-sounding pop-songs.
This is, undoubtedly, a huge reason why Entertainment! has so persisted, has so leant itself to reversions and revisions. It's formula is, in many ways, so simple, yet it's so evocative, and walks a wondrous line between high-art and low-pleasure.
Yet, no matter how often people replicate the Entertainment! template, that hasn't wearied the album itself one iota. Like all old favorites, it seems untouched by the passage of time, and reveals new charms with every spin. And, if you've never heard it, only its legions of followers, just know that it's not one of those old records whose legacy is overblown; this a proud, powerful, profound listening experience waiting to be had.
Record Label: EMI
Release Date: September, 1979