Tonight’s selections from Gang of Four’s 1979 debut Entertainment!.
Gang of Four were a pop band. Their funk was no less stark or forbidding than, say, the more astringent Timbaland productions. They certainly weren't as twitchy, speedy, or noisy as James Brown at his most energized. Their great innovation-- Andy Gill's Morse code guitar, as if playing a riff for more than a few bars caused him physical pain-- is post-punk's most ripped-off idea after badly played disco drums. They had attitude, energy, the big beat, skilled players funneling their virtuosity into the necessary notes, a handy way with a catch phrase, and sweaty live performances. Sounds like pop to me.
They formed in 1977 as part of a scene surrounding Leeds University's fine arts department that also included the Mekons and the Au Pairs. They were art students who named themselves after the Maoists that ran China until the leader's death in 1976. But they bonded over pub rockers Dr. Feelgood and 70s British blues band Free, exactly the sort of dinosaur hard rock post-punk was supposed to have purged in its own Cultural Revolution. The seeming contradiction, at least in terms of the Good Music Society the music press was constructing at the time, might have explained their sound, which critic Simon Reynolds described as a "checked and inhibited hard rock: cock rock [with] the cock lopped off." — Pitchfork
Damaged Goods 
Entertainment!’s currency is the small-P politics of late capitalist banality, referencing commercials for Essence Rare perfume and timeshare holidays, and interrogating ‘the problem of leisure / what to do for pleasure’ (‘Natural’s Not In It’). Gang of Four were well versed in critical theory - they had cut their teeth on the Frankfurt School and the Situationists, they knew their Louis Althusser from their Raymond Williams - but, crucially and unlike so many other ‘political’ rock bands, they had the flair and the sense of fun to go with it. There’s a clue in the title: the cabaret exuberance of that punctuation mark anticipates the ironic fizz that makes Entertainment! so compelling. It is here that [Kevin H.] Dettmar’s literary grounding comes into its own, as he identifies the key ingredient that sets this album apart: it is, he writes, a question of ‘the difference between literature and propaganda …. valuing suggestive and provocative ambiguity over efficient certainty.’ Gang of Four raised a mirror to the insidious ideology of consumer society - its contamination of supposedly sacred spaces like the bedroom (‘Contract’, ‘Anthrax’) and every Englishman’s castle, home (‘At Home He’s a Tourist’). But they rarely preached. Their medium was ‘theatrical rather than confessional; narrative rather than lyric; ironic rather than sincere.’ They were, in short, storytellers.
None of which would have counted for anything were it not for the music. That Entertainment! sounds as fresh today as it did in 1979 - the same could hardly be said of many of Gang of Four’s contemporaries - is a testament to the band’s technical brilliance. As Dettmar points out, it’s the little touches that make it: the uncomfortably protracted intro to ‘I Found that Essence Rare’, the chiming, circular four-note figure on Andy Gill’s guitar played 16 times rather than the usual 8; the instrumental dropouts borrowed from dub reggae - anti-solos where one instrument or another disappears from the mix for maybe 10 seconds or even 30 seconds at a time; the variations in the duration of the ‘gutters’, the silences between the songs. Call it Brechtian defamiliarization or just messing with pop convention, Gang of Four’s unique sound was the perfect sonic complement to the ironic distance in their lyrics. — The Quietus
At Home He's a Tourist 
It would be an understatement to say that Gang of Four is anti-establishment. Entertainment! is awash with subversive politics, and although it is obvious that the band didn’t want to lead anything that would change the world, one could not be blamed for thinking that Gang of Four had tried to spark the mind(s) that would. A huge theme in these songs is consumerism. “At Home He’s A Tourist” is a scathing statement of how consumers let themselves be controlled by the products they buy and their intended uses: “Down on the disco floor / They make their profit / From the things they sell / To help you cob off / And the rubbers you hide / In your top left pocket.” It amazes me that these lines were written in Thatcher-era England, and that over the years, corporations have only gotten better at selling sex to fatten their overgrown pockets in today’s Dubya-era America.
It doesn’t matter what subject is being dissected on Entertainment!; that’s not the point. The point is that unless we learn to liberate our minds and think for ourselves, we will forever be ruled by capitalist society and the few that control it. Entertainment! isn’t about going all Fight Club on the system, because ultimately you have to exist within it. The system is too powerful to break down. Entertainment! is about learning to live within the system without it controlling your mind, body, and living essence. — Treble Zine
I Found That Essence Rare 
I was 18 and I had never kissed anyone. My body was a container, the basic frame I needed to cart around my brain, something to dangle my hands off of. I had powerful crushes I rarely revealed, knit through with a desire more for connection, for care, than anything like sex. It didn’t occur to me to masturbate. For most of high school I had tried, more or less, to be girlish, mostly because I wasn’t aware of another option. I had Team Dresch show flyers taped up in my locker but assumed no one knew I was queer. I was nervous, worrying all the time, the kind of anxiety that meant rapid-fire brain chat, a constant wish to transport to an ill-defined elsewhere. To be myself but different.
I shaved my head and went to college, where I joined Queer Alliance, got involved with the radio station. WESU had been around since 1939, and its collection of vinyl was deep. I eagerly took on the volunteer duty of alphabetizing the records in the overcrammed “rock” room. Through some older denizens of the AOL queer punk message board I had recently been turned on to early Rough Trade, the pop-experimental shamble of Liliput, Swell Maps, The Slits. As I crouched at the low shelves and reached for the high ones, I pulled out albums whose covers hinted at a similar aesthetic: a certain typeface on the cover, a collage-y layout, no big hair or glamor shots. Entertainment! stood out for the unmistakable irony of its title, pert exclamation on a blood-red background. I added it to the pile. — Sara Jaffe (Guitar, Erase Errata)
Natural's Not in It 
Go4 is still at it. This live video is from March.
Return the Gift [Live 2022]
WHO’S TALKING TO WHO?
Jimmy Kimmel: Joe Manganiello, Aisling Bea, Eddie Benjamin, guest host Sean Hayes (R 6/21/22)
Jimmy Fallon: Evan Rachel Wood, Chris Hemsworth, Conan Gray
Stephen Colbert: Beto O'Rourke, Matilda Lawler
Seth Meyers: Maya Rudolph, Werner Herzog, Pheelz, Ralph Alexander
James Corden: Austin Butler, Jeff Goldblum, Zac Brown Band
The Daily Show: Elliot Page
A late night gathering for non serious palaver that does not speak of that night’s show. Posting a spoiler will get you brollywhacked. You don’t want that to happen to you. It's a fate worse than a fate worse than death.
LAST WEEK’S POLL: SCOOBY-DOO CHARACTER
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