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29 November 2015

Gang of Four - 'Solid Gold' (EMI)

Jon King starts off Solid Gold without even singing, just intoning the poem of 'Paralysed' over a slow, start-stop rock beat that never quite lifts up. If I reviewed the last EP by complaining about how the fun was slowly disappearing from these guys, Solid Gold seems to further that tendency. We get 'Outside the Trains Don't Run on Time' and 'He'd Send in the Army', both from that yellow EP, and a few other memorable tunes, namely the secretly depressing 'Cheeseburger' and the iconic 'What We All Want', a brilliant deconstruction of desire under late capitalism, which slows down the disco fury of Entertainment to a crawl, allowing Gill's searing guitars to be layered in a way which sounds pretty great when turned up loud. No, it's not particularly fun, but there's enough of a hook (the chanted 'Could I be happy with something else?/I need some thing to fill my time', which is great because of the duality of 'something' and 'some thing', which not only questions the whole aspect of commodification but also introduces a sexual element into it) so this ends up being a record I've always kept around and enjoyed perhaps more than I should. A lot of the songs are stuck in the same template - jerky, not as musically satisfying as the hits on their first album, which makes the lyrical slogans stand out more - 'wasting time's a hole in the wallet', 'show me a ditch and i'll dive in it', etc. 'Cheeseburger' is definitely the highpoint, where Gill's harmonics give it a shininess that's ironic juxtaposed with its weary, wage-slave tale lyrics. You'll notice that I often follow the conventional wisdom, which is that after the original rhythm section changed, the band was never quite the same, and while their Marxist posturing was always clearly just posturing (after all this is EMI), it became too obvious to enjoy, as they strived more for pop hits. I don't know if that's actually true at all - I think I only heard Sara Lee-era Gang of Four once or twice - so maybe I should dig into Songs of the Free. We all know that the real radicals were just down the road -- the Mekons -- and yes, I will mention the Mekons approximately 40million more times here before we eventually make it to the Ms (2023?). There's a reason for that, though.