Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


English post-punk rockers return after 15-year hiatus with ‘Content’

Bands attempting a comeback after a decade or two are almost
always at a disadvantage. If you alter your sound to go into a more post-modern
direction, you sound unrecognizable and lose your fanbase. If you try to
replicate your old sound, people suddenly remember it’s not 1980 and only the
hardcore tribute bands and their groupies flock to you. (Unless you’re Guns N’
Roses, in which case you’re lauded for actually finishing an album.)

For awhile, it looked as if post-punk luminaries Gang of
Four were taking the latter approach quite literally. In preparation for the
group’s first full-fledged tour since the early ’90s, they recorded Return
the Gift
in 2005. Sure, they could have
released a “best of” album. Or they could have teased audiences with a new
single. But rather than fall into the pitfalls of other rock reboots, they
stuck to what they knew best: Their original songs.

That’s right. Gang of Four re-recorded their old songs. It
would have been pathetic if it hadn’t been such a precise recreation of the
source material.


One thing was sure from Return the Gift: They were still the band that createdEntertainment!andSolid Gold, at
least technically. But it wasn’t clear whether they’d be good or merely
self-referential in an environment that has spent the last decade aping their
approach. After all, the songs they rerecorded had been heard more in their
original format in “Marie Antoinette”
and commercials for the Kinect.

Thankfully, Content,
to be released next week, seems cozy enough to position itself as a decent, new
millennial successor to Gang of Four’s proto-dance-punk.

Die-hard fans will likely be immediately skeptical. The opening
track “She Said You Made A Thing Of Me,” sounds explosive but a tad forced.
And by forced, I mean produced. While the guitar work is still rough and rapid,
the reverb and painfully clear vocals sound ready to be packaged for a single
to be sold in Target.

The obligatory comeback bravado is dispensed with quickly,
however. “I Can’t Forget Your Lonely Face” sounds like it merged “Why Theory”?
and “What We All Want” and simply wrote new lyrics to accompany them; “Who Am I”?
fits into their catalog seamlessly; “I Party All The Time” is a bit of
popification of their style, adding a backing chorus to their trademark angular
half-dance riffs.

Even more surprising may be the relatively simple structure
and melody of “Fruit Fly in the Beehive,” which should seem out of place on a
Gang of Four album. But the track is peppered with enough sinister undertones
to make it an enjoyable, if not totally fulfilling track.

That’s not to say there aren’t places where the opportunity
for new techniques should have been hidden from the group. “It Was Never Going
to Turn Out Too Good,” begins with a robotic voiceover and wanders in the
minimalist desert of background noise for two and a half minutes without any
notable direction. “You’ll Never
Pay For the Farm” has the opposite problem – while the instrumentation is
tight, its verses are largely repetitive and tedious. This continues on the
last few tracks, finally ending with a nice burst of energy on “Second Life.”

At times, Content seems
deserving of its namesake: The subversive upstarts are still hooked on odd
rhythms and blistering punk guitar work, and that still is fresh enough today
to jettison concerns about the group’s age.

But it’s hard to deny that some things get dated: The lyrics
don’t carry the power they did when Jon King was yelling about oil in “Ether,”
backup singer and songwriter Andy Gill has aged his voice in a way that affects
a low-toned Bowie-style sneer nowadays, and they can’t stray too far from their
original sound without losing their edge.

But for the most part, when they stick to what they know, it’s
hard to believe they’ve aged more than three years since their prime. And that
should leave their fans content, if not completely satisfied.

3 out of 5 stars.

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