Friday, May 16, 2008
No. 490: Entertainment!
Band: Gang of Four
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Sitting in a place with the Modern Lovers, Television and other such post-punk bands, Gang of Four's debut is a wonderful amalgam of the dominant music of the 1970s, filtered through an intelligence unforeseen until the record's release.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I guess I could see why some people don't like it, but that's not easy. More importantly, this album is far too low considering the music that followed it.
Best song: "Ether," "Return the Gift" and "Guns Before Butter" are all great.
Worst song: I don't love "Contract."
Is it awesome?: Yes.
Scores of words have been spilled on "Entertainment!" by writers far more talented than I. Robert Christgau says of the record "No matter how merely liberal their merely critical verbal content, the tension/release dynamics are praxis at its most dialectical."
The greatest bands were able to fuse forms while still maintaining a melody and catchy ethos. Gang of Four do this in spades. Each song is danceable in the same way current bands like The Rapture are catchy. It's the kind of catchy that won't get you on the radio -- Go4 never really got on the radio -- but it is the kind of catchy that could get you in an iPod ad or over credits on an episode of "Bones." As Jess Harvell of Pitchfork said in a review of the album, "They had attitude, energy, the big beat, skilled players funneling their virtuosity into the necessary notes, a handy way with a catch phrase, and sweaty live performances. Sounds like pop to me."
And that's how the record sounds. While Public Image Ltd. did a similar thing, their music was harder on the ears. Andy Gill's razorblade guitar on "Not Great Men" is rhythmic and fun, while the chorus is fun. Each is, indeed, a hook. It's the type of thing a listener hums soon after and never forgets.
Yes, catchiness/pop sensibility isn't the only thing important to a band, but songs with no hooks are the ones most forgotten. I recently got two albums by two of my favorite bands; both are bands known for considerable hooks. The first -- Death Cab for Cutie's latest -- is entirely forgettable. That's too bad, because DCFC is a favorite of mine, but they're fallen into a trap of boredom. So it goes.
The other album is Nine Inch Nails' latest, "The Slip." The record is much more hook-heavy and fun. Like Go4 -- from who Reznor has taken great influence -- the album is danceable, yet still maintains a line of heaviness.
Go4's ethos is much more punk rock and much more political (not to mention smarter) than NIN. "Damaged Goods" builds to a dance-rock fury while the Marxism "Guns Before Butter" is better than anything Rage Against the Machine ever released (not mention its around-the-world drumline. "Ether" stands along any great rock of the past 30 years and "5.45" bemoans the media and industrial life we live in, while utilizing the simplest of intros. Sounding like a better version of Fugazi, the album's message is clearer than its peers.
It's sad, really. Go4 was so ahead of its time, it's a shame the band never achieved the heights Fugazi did. Still, "Entertainment!" holds up so much later as a testament to their genius.