April 17, 2019 Gang of Four – Happy Now (Album Review)
As founder Andy Gill (lead guitar, vocals) said—also the only remaining member of his enduring band—Gang of Four has become not only a pioneer but more so an institution in the genre Post-Punk. Gang of Four has influenced a slew of bands that came after it, which included Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Taste the Pain”), Franz Ferdinand (“Take Me Out”), and Bloc Party (“She’s Hearing Voices”). Its music is best characterized by angular and fractured guitar rhythms; rolling, funky basslines; hard-hitting drumbeats; and seemingly apathetic, icy vocals.
Formed in 1977, in Leeds, England, Gang of Four was among the instigators of the English Post-Punk movement, in the late ’70s, alongside The Slits (“Typical Girls”), Magazine (“A Song from Under the Floorboards”), and Wire (“Ahead”). Its classic single “Damaged Goods” has long become one of the anthems of Alternative music. To date, Gang of Four has eight studio albums—1979’s Entertainment! to 2015’s What Happens Next, to which the follow-up is Happy Now. With Gill in this forthcoming album are Thomas McNeice (bass), John Sterry (lead vocals), and Tobias Humble (drums).
Scheduled for release on April 19, 2019, via Gill Music Ltd., Happy Now opens straightaway with its strongest, killer track, “Toreador”—Dub-heavy, dancey, flashy, melodic, upbeat, and angularly Post-Punk. The neon-lit, Disco-inspired dance-ability grooves into the ensuing “Alpha Male,” albeit in a slightly slower sway. The following “One True Friend” then takes the listener to the dark, cold, and Gothic territories of Synthpop, resonating steely echoes of late ’90s–phase Depeche Mode (“It’s No Good”).
Happy Now’s fourth track is taken from the band’s EP Complicit: “Ivanka” – a jab of Industrial/Dub and whose lyrics found Gang of Four in its most direct, anti-establishment sentiment yet. Afterwards, the serrated guitar slices through the pulsating bass and thumping drum beats as “Don’t Ask” plays next.
Another trek to the center of the dance floor then follows in the form of “Don’t Change the Locks”—hypnotic, numbing, infectious. Then there is the swelling Trip-Hop bounce of “I’m a Liar,” with which Gang of Four pokes again its smart nose onto the current era of fakes news and selfie-aggrandizement. As Happy Now comes near the end of the spin, the quartet then take the listener to a romantic and relaxing mood, at least in a sonic sense, as the Synthpop ballad “White Lies” pulsates its heartbeat sentiments; it will fit onto a playlist that includes Ultravox’s “Vienna,” Alphaville’s “Forever Young,” The Postal Service’s “We Will Become Silhouettes,” and Fiat Lux’s “Feels like Winter Again.”
Finally, Gill, McNeice, Sterry, and Humble shrinkwrap their latest contents with the jangly, sunny, and synth-drenched “Paper Thin”—an apt album closer—engaging, melodious, and uplifting.
At this stage, Gang of Four is an epitome of a gracefully progressing Post-Punk pioneer, vibrating off youthful energy but at the same time exuding confidence and maturity. An extension—more so, a completion—of last year’s Complicit, Happy Now is as well an expression of all the positive vibes that Gang of Four has been generating in the music scene for 40 years now. Cryptic Rock gives it 4 out of 5 stars.