Autobiographical Order No. 320: Gang of Four – Entertainment!

Record collector types tend to romanticize things that don’t really happen anymore, like buying something based on the cover art alone. Don’t get me wrong: I find that concept appealing in the abstract—imagine an LP cover so cool that you just can’t leave without it! I’m imagining most people won’t do that, however, and if they do, it’s not done completely devoid of context.

I will say this, though: A great deal of my music collection past and present was acquired without actually having heard the albums first. I still do, sometimes. But there’s a good chance I know about the artist, or the album’s reputation, or something to that effect—I very rarely buy something without knowing anything about it.

Gang of Four is one such band I discovered entirely through reading about them when I was a teenager. They were a good decade past having broken up and their music still somewhat obscure in the scheme of things; nobody was really releasing anything that sounded like Gang of Four in the ’90s (although some early Modest Mouse has elements of Andy Gill guitar scratch, strangely enough). But Henry Rollins briefly curated a reissue label called “Infinite Zero” that actually got a lot of really awesome stuff back in print: The Contortions, Monks, Flipper, Devo, Trouble Funk, Tom Verlaine and Alan Vega to name a handful of the artists on the roster. Gang of Four was also one of them, and for a time this was the avenue through which Entertainment!, their landmark debut album, was available in record stores.

Bear in mind, though, that Napster and Spotify didn’t exist, so if I wanted to hear something, I pretty much had to buy it. And so curiosity got the best of me; I found a used copy for $7 at the Wherehouse in Temecula (of all places) and had my first taste of Gang of Four. And that first listen was more confusing than anything; songs like “Ether” and “Natural’s Not In It” grooved, but seemed to do so in spite of the band’s efforts. It was so abrasive and weird. And yet by the time “Damaged Goods” started playing, I was convinced this band was for me.

The liner notes featured some testimonials from bands Gang of Four influenced, including Flea, who used the opportunity to talk trash on U2. Which is weird—when you’re in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, you’re in the most fragile of glass houses. (Also if they were influenced by Gang of Four…well, they’re doing it wrong.) But I couldn’t help but notice a lot of elements that were put into practice by other bands. Visually and marketing wise, Rage Against the Machine borrowed a lot of tricks from Gang of Four, even if they sound nothing like them, for instance.

It took a long time before I ended up picking this back up on vinyl, not for any good reason. And my Gang of Four LP collection has been acquired out of order. (I got Songs of the Free first, which is usually not the recommended avenue, but all of their first three albums pretty much rule.)

So, it’s not like I saw the cover of Entertainment! and thought “I’m taking this baby home!” But I took a chance. Still, I hope someone else does and has their mind blown.

Rating: 10.0

Sound Quality: Great

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