Lyrically, ‘Entertainment’, Leeds band Gang Of Four’s 1979 debut LP, is dry, emotionless, blurred fare that, though getting its political reading from a mostly leftist slant, its life experience can be found in northern Britain’s suburbs. In his wonderful book Rip It Up And Start Again Simon Reynolds describes the LP thus: “sober, flat, at once in your face and remote”.
The thing you notice when playing the album, even today, is the way each track attempts to offer up something a little different, in an era when many similar sort of records featured a bunch of cuts that were barely distinguishable from one another (a failure that still exists today, alas). A blancmange of sound is not a feature here. Well, not entirely. At least when up against other punk and post-punk, indie released items. Each track on ‘Entertainment’ at least attempts to do things just a little different to the track before (listening to the differences in each track’s intros, for example, and you get the picture– always a good gauge, that).
Andy Gill’s guitar playing was minimal (as were the majority of punk guitarists), but here things are produced in such a way that allows for the occasional and distinctive– if at times barely audible– feel and mode to the playing; indeed, one could even say to the beat.
This is a record that probably represents its time more than any other album around during the period. But, of course, in saying this, don’t be expecting much by way of romance and melody in the traditional sense.
Arguably the group’s most infamous moment was the time they pulled out of an appearance on Top Of The Pops because they wouldn’t tweak a ‘controversial’ lyric. This was the closest the band got to a Sex Pistols-Bill Grundy moment, even if the story was noted at the time by noone bar the music weeklies. Also, the common conception goes that this event ‘done’ for the band’s career, as opposed to making them even more famous as in the case with the Pistols.
Here find an eclectic set of tastes, never at any point coming across as overbearing or getting in the way of one another (a mistake made often by many a musician, no more so than today). And this fact alone is one of the record’s plusses, if not its main one. It’s got sexless funk, clipped, wiry guitars, sardonically delivered, stop-go vocals. Like the Clash but with less of the limelight and big grooves, the Stranglers if they replaced the laddish snarl with an art school, self depreciating cool, or the Jam minus the dress code and cockney mod swagger.
One can also imagine, say, a young U2 getting their music chops from the record (even if said Dubliners’ soon became known more for effects pedals and stadium sized melancholy). One also wonders if the part the record played in shaping post hardcore/punk guitarist Steve Albini’s much-celebrated style is indeed understated.