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It's 2005, not 1985

Gang of Four - Return the Gift
(V2 Records)
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Oct. 17, 2005
Gang of Four

Review by Andy Argyrakis

In an age when just about every band is trying to sound like it came out of England in the early 80s, it's awfully refreshing to have one of the decade's post punk/new wave forerunners back in the game. Though Gang of Four has occasionally appeared together throughout the last decade, this year has been an especially active one for the guys, starting with a major tour that inspired this new recording. But before getting into the nuts and bolts of that project, it's essential to notate just how influential this band has been, starting with the fact members bridged dancey, guitar driven dynamics with social and political messages. Such platforms were known to cause some controversy, but its music was so infectious that all associations and belief systems could immediately identify. Heck, bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Stellastarr and The Futureheads owe a lot to these somewhat unsung heroes of the underground, who are finally getting their fair due of exposure with these recent forms of reunion.
But rather than delving into exhaustive writing sessions and unveiling a wealth of new material, Gang of Four is capitalizing on a relatively recent trend of older acts re-recording their past smashes. It's a ploy The Cure and The Church have done as of late to push product and is arguably less desirable to diehards desperate for fresh produce. Yet the positive side of revisiting a wheel that's already been turned before is the curiosity factor when translated to current contexts. Considering it's 2005 and not 1985, one would wonder how the group would evolve and if these memories could still stand up today. Thankfully many of them can such as the brash rebellion of "Not Great Men," the pounding backbone of "Anthrax" and the lusty "Damaged Goods." "Capital" comes across with a more subdued, alt-rock groove than these, though "At Home He's a Tourist" re-ignites with a trashy glam appeal.
Also keep an ear out for "I Love a Man In a Uniform," which swings with sarcasm and a neo-disco glow, plus "Paralysed," a mostly instrumental track tipped with modern indie leanings and spoken word dialogue. As much as all the aforementioned are enjoyable and worth recommending, they still don't match the fervency of the first time around, which can only be found on classic albums like Entertainment!, Solid Gold and Songs of the Free. It's this simple reality, along with the fact that Gang of Four haven't recorded an official album of new material since 1995's Shrinkwrapped, that breeds ever so slight bits of annoyance and impatience. And despite rejoicing over the band's catalogue reaching the current generation, it's imperative that Gang of Four gets back in the studio for a fitting follow-up.

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