Band: Gang Of Four
In the late 70s this upstart English quartet comes on the scene. With their thick and chewy bass lines they reference elements of funk and r&b, but they also project a spare, almost brittle guitar sound that's all angles and sharp corners. Their production aesthetic, at least on the seminal first album, is spartan - arid, even. It's probably because they are earnest young men bent on using music to deliver equally brittle leftist polemics on everything from the meaninglessness of working class life to the inherent emptiness of materialistic consumption to failed love in the modern age. They are so far from commercial popsters it's absurd. And so their debut album is existentialist and despairing - a mood driven by a fine, intensely intellectual anger. In a sense, it feels like an adopted stance rather than a earthy take based on actual experience. Yet, strangely enough, that somewhat contrived dissonance doesn't make the music any less strikingly vital.
You can ignore all of the above and just feel the music. In 1979, these lads from Leeds released their first full album, Entertainment. There are some real gems on it but the nasty track which closes out the album is the one I inevitably recall for its primeval brutishness. It begins with the demented whine of guitar feedback - elemental, lmost irritating in its rudely forceful persistence, pushing forward as it shreds sonic space. A feeling of dread intensity swells, billows outward in razor-sharp sheets. Then, a triumphant phrase, all white-hot and luminous in its sheer ferocity - suddenly totemic drums kick in with an accompanying killer bass line. The combined effect is colossal; from utter chaos emerges this monster song. The feedback dies off and two opposing vocal narratives drop in over the chugging music - narratives which, like radio interference, largely cancel each other out. One is a rambling affair about being caught in a depressingly quotidian, Kafka-esque conflict, the other, at a slightly lower volume, is a banal run-down of the love songs and its various manifestations in popular culture. It’s bewildering, irritating and also oddly integral - especially when both singer Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill momentarily unite in uttering “and I feel like a beetle on it’s back.” Soon enough, the bitter wall of feedback, like a merciless plague, comes down again. Then King and Gill unite again in a bleak declamation of a chorus equating love to anthrax. Then the song dies - the vocal chorus and the bass drop out, leaving the ominously tribal cadence of the drums to carry the charge forward alone. Then even those fall silent, after nearly four and a half feverish minutes.
Penning about Gang of Four’s Anthrax takes me back to the very first time I heard this brilliantly inspired creation. All I could do was listen transfixed, marvelling that such a compelling creation could be made from such distilled simplicity.
Posted by Max MacDonald