The pioneering post-punk band Gang of Four will be releasing their tenth studio release, “Happy Now” on April 19th. The influence of this band on the development of Indie music is almost immeasurable. Their impact has been acknowledged by no less than Pitchfork who voted Gang of Four’s debut “Entertainment” as one of the top ten albums of the ’70s that change the world. Gang of Four is frequently mentioned by other performers as a seminal influence. Artists as far-flung as St. Vincent, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Frank Ocean, Nirvana and Franz Ferdinand have given testament to the band’s influence. Gang of Four’s latest release bears witness to their still unrelenting commitment to their own singular convictions.
The fact the band is still operational 40 years after their debut is stunning. Gang of Four is currently comprised of John “Gaoler” Sterry on vocals, Andy Gill on guitars, Thomas McNiece on bass and Tobias Humble on drums. Throughout their career, the band has always had their finger on the pulse of society’s inherent contradictions. It is no surprise that “Happy Now” continues to provide anthemic songs on modern confusion. Throughout the release the band questions the ephemeral quality of happiness and how we assess its value.
“Happy Now” asks the timely rhetorical question of whether we humans are happy with the results of recent political and social events. With piercing lyrics and stripped down Punk, Funk and Dub sonics the band weighs in with their opinion on the situation we are currently amidst. It should come as no surprise that they are not happy with what they are observing. The album cranks to life with “Toreador” an angular guitar driven track with skittering percussion. The lyrics examine the dichotomy between seeing ourselves as the heroes of a situation when we are really only tossers. “Alpha Male” continues that idea as it discusses the fallacy of the Alpha Male narrative. The glitchy techno goodness of the track is married to a truly funky vibe and is an inspired meld. “One True Friend” has explosive sonics and a sinister dark edge that provides an apt background for the questioning whether a friend is a demon or angel. The construct is then extrapolated onto the current political world where the intentions of our leaders are brought into question, pondering the hero/villain premise.
Prior to the album release the song “Ivanka”, yes that Ivanka, has created a bit of a stir. The song is filled with the band’s take on our daily headlines as they utilize an arresting Depeche Mode styling. “Don’t Ask Me” is a track loaded with frenetic guitars and examines how the world has gotten into its lowly state. There is a shrug of sorts in the lyric “I keep giving the wrong answers so don’t ask me.” This lyric points out the powerlessness of the common man when decisions are made without the input or consent of the people.
My favourite track on the release is the catchy “Change the Locks”. This track looks at the suspicion created by authorities and the dystopian world that emerges when leaders setting people against each other. The marriage of swirling synths and electronic beats is entrancing.
Often times throughout the release the band utilizes a surreal nightmare sonic that twists and turns as they escort the listener through a gallery of a frightening reality. The song “White Lies” is an apt example with its pulled around sonics and vocals. The disembodied vocal is almost as disturbing as when Gaoler sings in a more manic style. “Paper Thin” on the other hand is a dance track with classic Gang of Four synth sonics that lands a punch with the lyric “Just because your mouth is moving it doesn’t mean debate”. This droll comment takes to task all the mental midgets who spout off on things they know nothing about thanks to our 24/7 information age. The closing track is a bonus feature. “Lucky” ends the release on a pugnacious note castigating our current social set up where the deck is stacked against the honest. The selection shows that Gang of Four has lost none of the fire in their belly.
“Happy Now” displays the ongoing metamorphosis the band has encountered throughout their now four decades of existence. The album is as intense as any ever released on their discography. Gang of Four has always been unafraid to share their dissatisfaction with the world’s condition. This outing shows they are even more disturbed by our further slide down the drain and they will not go quietly, nor would we want them to.