Time has not been kind to the Gang of Four, a band whose angular and extraordinarily danceable instrumental attack and rigid polemicism utterly defined, for a while, the promise of postpunk. Their preeminence, for me, was enhanced by the fact that in the town where I lived at the time, the band’s first appearances were always in little-used venues; to us the unfamiliar, almost clandestine surroundings only increased the paranoid feel of Gang of Four’s wild, pitiless Marxism. Yet there was a human feel to the band; I hope it doesn’t trivialize the issue to say that frontmen Andy Gill and Jon King sometimes seemed like characters in a Philip K. Dick novel, wrenching back layers of unreality to display the world’s true essence, a steaming mess of wan conformity, capitalist mayhem, and vulgar belief. But the band’s debut classic, Entertainment!, is rarely heard of today, this at a time when a dozen British bands of the moment are giving props to the lesser Wire. While Gang of Four never really went away, it’s been heard from intermittently, most recently a few years back in the disappointing Mall. Now we have Shrinkwrapped, which rankles for a couple of reasons. The first is the shift in lyrical direction from the societal to the personal; the band seems almost contemptuous of its characters (“I’m a sucker swallowing the bait,” goes one heavy-handed song. “I’m a man’s man, but I can’t cut the cord.”) Also, too many songs have something to do with the dehumanization of sex in the modern world. (I don’t want to ridicule a pair of serious artists, but puh-leaze.) The second problem is musical. The record isn’t uniformly bad, really: on songs like the opening “Tattoo” and closing “Shrinkwrapped,” the band’s ancient angularity is smoothed out into something approaching pop music; the latter, particularly, is eerie and compelling. But throughout the vast expanse in between I kept thinking, this is the 1990s, and these guys sound like the Fixx. As far as the show goes, it’s disappointing that the pair passed up the chance to include its original rhythm section; whether in its absence King and Gill can muster up the band’s formidable assault remains to be seen. Sunday, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 489-3160.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Anton Corbijn.