Dusting Off… Gang of Four’s Entertainment!
What is it?
Released in 1979, Entertainment! is the debut album from post-punk band Gang of Four. For anyone not familiar with the group, Gang of Four originally hailed from Leeds and consisted of singer Jon King, drummer Hugo Burnham, bassist Dave Allen and guitarist Andy Gill. Taking their name from the Chinese counter-revolutionary political movement headed by the last wife of Mao Zedong, Jiang Qing, the band specialised in a unique blend of punk, funk and dub reggae, characterised in particular by Andy Gill’s angular, stuttering guitar riffs and Jon King’s politically and socially-themed lyrics, which often focussed on the ills of modern society.
The title is a paradox in the sense that it comments on the concept of entertainment while itself being a form of it, but it is fully self-aware and the lyrics are as smart as they are barbarous. Musically speaking, the album was groundbreaking and daring in the way it blended disco and funk rhythms with thrashy punk guitars and vocals, at a time when there was a very clear social divide between the types of people who would usually listen to these different genres. Many self-respecting punks wouldn’t have wanted to be seen dead in a place like Studio 54.
Highlights include the frenetic energy of ‘Damaged Goods’, the anti-love song ‘Love Like Anthrax’ and the stomping, stuttering funk of ‘Not Great Men’. The real star of the show here though is ‘At Home He’s A Tourist’, a mutated disco groove being slashed across by Gill’s spiky guitars, with a lyric describing our obsession with authenticity (“He fills his head with culture / He gives himself an ulcer”).
Why should I revisit?
Gang of Four have never been a mainstream act and surprisingly Entertainment! didn’t even break the Top 40 in the UK Album Chart (peaking at No.45), but despite this it has become one of the most influential albums of the post-punk era, inspiring and informing the music of a whole range of artists from Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Red Hot Chilli Peppers to Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain even described his band as having started out as “basically a Gang of Four / Scratch Acid rip-off.”
Andy Gill is a respected producer in its own right these days and has worked on albums by the likes of Killing Joke, Young Knives, The Stranglers and Futureheads, among many others.
Who will enjoy it?
If you enjoy bands like Wire and Public Image Ltd. then you’ll probably already be aware of this record, but if not you should add it to your collection soon. If you’re a fan of Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party you’ll not only like it but probably also recognise a borrowed idea here and there. Either way, it remains one of the most vital and life-affirming records of its time.