Despite the intervening years of New Romantic pop, goth, grunge, electronica, and the pop renaissance, Gang of Four’s funky, intellectual post-punk attack has lost none of its fury or resonance. Largely responsible for pioneering a funk-punk sound that would go on to influence such groups as the Talking Heads, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Massive Attack, the Gang also penned ferociously biting political lyrics that commented upon the rampant consumerism and neo-conservatism of the late 70s and early 80s. Rather than indulging in the rather boyish infatuation with exotic military culture that plagued The Clash despite their musical and lyrical excellence, Gang of Four critiqued the less glamorous and more mundane aspects of late 20th century mass culture and consumerism.
Rhino’s new retrospective 100 Flowers Bloom captures the Gang of Four’s best moments from their all-too-short brilliant career. All the essentials are here: “At Home He’s A Tourist,” “Anthrax,” “Paralysed,” “I Love A Man In Uniform,” and many more, plus several incendiary live tracks that display what a phenomenal performing group they could be.
Lines like “please send me evenings and weekends” from “Return the Gift” typify the Gang of Four approach in assailing the assault on our leisure time by the demands of the work that earns us our consumer privileges, but ironically the plea for free time is couched in the language of commerce.
Punctuating the ideological sentiments, Andy Gill’s staccato, discordant guitar unsettles as much as it contributes to the funky rhythms. Meanwhile, their vocal trademark of slashing, counterpoint voices, often atonal, contribute both to the harshness and starkness of the musical attack. If this all sounds like serious stuff, it was, but the sober social critique was always accompanied by a propulsive, addictive beat. You can dance to it and become enlightened at the same time. Not many bands can boast such an achievement.