Part of the problem when a band like Gang of Four releases a record as life changing as 1979’s Entertainment! is that everything that follows in its wake runs a greater risk of disappointment.
Keeping that in mind, it’s not hard to balance the time and distance between a new Gang of Four record and that acknowledged classic. In the three decades since, we’ve seen the band fall out of fashion somewhat, while giving birth to a few, easily identifiable youngsters who replace communist Cliffs Notes ideals with tailored suits and Xbox deals.
It’s not clear whether the band returned to the studio for the first time in a decade-and-a-half to clear up some unresolved creative matters or to smack back the younger contingency with jealous vigor.
If the odds weren’t stacked enough against the band, Content comes without the aid of the original rhythm section – a concern, since Gang of Four’s sense of rhythm is their secret weapon.
But their primary shooter has always been Andy Gill. He’s still here, and his angular guitar work sounds inspired and continually fresh. And judging from “You Don’t Have To Be Mad,” the replacement rhythm section sounds perfectly in mesh with Gill’s guitar stabs and metallic stutters.
Yet something’s missing throughout Content, and there’s no getting around the feeling that, out of all of the band’s contributors, vocalist Jon King sounds like the weak link in the chain.
His vocal performances lack color and depth, and the material he’s saddled with sounds like it’s nowhere near the intensity of the musical arrangements. Never mind that King and company could have found ample material from strip-mine consumerism and our modern ideal of social behavior. Even the words themselves – at home he’s a tourist – can take on an entirely new perspective behind the glare of Facebook and other, sterile forms of social networking.
Instead, King is the epitome of settling, providing an unbalance throughout Content. While the rest of the band works hard at blending the old with the new, he shows little regard for matching their exuberance.
The result dampens the affair, reminding us that – as the band themselves once said – “We all have good intentions / But all with strings attached.” There’s plenty of good intention on Content, but the strings of their prior greatness hold back any chance that we’d tolerate a moderately executed late career offering.