The last great album of the ‘70s has been going in and out of print for the past quarter of a century, but the influence Gang of Four’s 1979 debut, Entertainment!, is immeasurable. Headed by frontman Jon King and his dry voice, the four lads from Leeds made angry, Marxist-tinged punk rock danceable by incorporating a melting pot of influences into their sound.
The remastered and expanded version of Entertainment! showcases the album’s staying power. With the new new-wave gopher popping its head up in the form of bands such as Bloc Party, the Bravery, Kaiser Chiefs and the Rapture, this reissue is an important reminder of how it was done the first time around.
The jitterbug trot of “Ether,” with Dave Allen’s rumbling bass lines, remains one of the all-time great album openers. It’s followed by the bastardized two-tone in “Naturals Not in It,” which showed the outside world that the Brits described a headache as a “mee-grain.” Even the small-time avant-garde of the New York City no-wave boom could be foreseen with the dub-infused “Contract” and its scattered artiness. But the true focal point of the album is the metal machine music of “Anthrax,” with Hugo Burnham’s impending drumbeats and the dual monologues — one talking, one singing.
At the time of Entertainment!’s release, Gang of Four was rather righteous — the members have no qualms about criticizing capitalism, saying it was as corrupt and immoral as the Iron Curtain’s systems. The transparency of the free-market is questioned in the rock-steady groove of “Return the Gift,” featuring guitarist Andy Gill’s rollicking staccatos. The evils of war profiteering are brought to the table on “Guns Before Butter,” whose sound almost directly influenced the throbbing pop-rumpus made by Maximo Park and the Futureheads.
This “remastered and expanded” version includes the twelve original tracks, plus eight previously unreleased songs, including alternate versions of “Guns Before Butter” and “Contract” and live versions of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” and the sneeringly snotty “Blood Free.” Also included are all four songs off of the band’s highly sought-after Yellow EP from 1980, including the more new-wave-ish “Outside the Trains Don’t Run on Time” and the angry choppy beat of “He’d Send in the Army.”
This album is as vital to the punk aesthetic as The Ramones, Never Mind the Bollocks, and London Calling. The members of Franz Ferdinand owe more to Gang of Four than the Austro-Hungarian archduke they took their name from.