After reading Jack Rabid's interview with them in The Big Takeover #57, I decided to dust off my copy of Gang of Four's Entertainment! Boy, I think it's safe to say that I finally get this band.
As I've mentioned before, there was a point in my high school years (junior year especially) when I started searching for music instead of accepting whatever was on MTV or the radio at the time. Thanks to mentions in Rolling Stone's Alt-Rock-A-Rama and J. Robbins' kudos of it in a Guitar World article, I was interested in Entertainment! At that time, Henry Rollins' and Rick Rubin's label Infinite Zero had reissued it along with out-of-print Troublefunk and Devo records. This was some good stuff, but after having Entertainment! in my library for years, I never really "got" it. Now after hearing quite a few bands that the press has lumped them together with, I get Gang of Four.
For the longest time, I thought Gang of Four was a funky Clash. Very British, very scratchy and not the most pleasant to listen to all the time. While I still agree with most of my descriptions, I can't call them a funky Clash anymore. GoF definitely had something going that was different from a lot of post-punk bands in '79-'81. What exactly that was, I'm not 100% sure, but I will say this, they did a lot by not playing together at the same time. Bassist Dave Allen carried the melody while interacting with drummer Hugo Burnham as guitarist Andy Gill and singer Jon King pushed the sound over the top. They gave each other room, but not the kind of traditional room. Sometimes the bass would drop out of nowhere while sometimes the guitar would drop out of nowhere. This definitely did not sould like a bunch of art school students trying to learn how to play rock music as they went.
Now with bands like Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Moving Units and Maximo Park, a lot of Gang of Four's sound is in them whether they know it or not. I hear a lot of Bloc Party's sound in "Damaged Goods" while "Not Great Men" sounds like a lot of Franz Ferdinand's dancier material. I don't think it's fair to call these bands copycats, but there are noticeable similarities.
If it weren't for a band like Bloc Party being a tad poppier than Gang of Four, I don't know if I would really get what was so great about GoF. As much as I and other people gripe about younger bands sounding like clones of great bands, this is an example of younger band helping me understand the greatness of an older band. There are still several bands out there that I like but don't fully understand their greatness. I enjoy a lot of the Replacements' material (especially their Let it Be and Tim era), but I've never understood the kind of life-changing effect they've had on people. Maybe it would have to take a handful of younger bands that sounded a lot like them for me to understand, but I don't think that should be the route for every legendary band. I'm sure I'll understand in some way or another.