I love punk. I really do. However, to me, the best bands in punk rock aren’t The Sex Pistols or The Clash. They aren’t the bands that dressed in studs and spikes. The best bands in punk don’t sound the loudest or the fastest. The kinds of punk bands I like aren’t usually the ones which are overtly political, except for Gang of Four. Maybe that’s because Gang of Four is so damn subversive. They weren’t asking anyone to join them; no, Gang of Four was simply asking people to break away from the masses. They were showing people a different way of life than that of endlessly working a menial job, living on the dole or going to the corner pub every day after work to talk about football. Gang of Four was just trying to get people to think differently.
It would be an understatement to say that Gang of Four is anti-establishment. Entertainment! is awash with subversive politics, and although it is obvious that the band didn’t want to lead anything that would change the world, one could not be blamed for thinking that Gang of Four had tried to spark the mind(s) that would. A huge theme in these songs is consumerism. “At Home He’s A Tourist” is a scathing statement of how consumers let themselves be controlled by the products they buy and their intended uses: “Down on the disco floor / They make their profit / From the things they sell / To help you cob off / And the rubbers you hide / In your top left pocket.” It amazes me that these lines were written in Thatcher-era England, and that over the years, corporations have only gotten better at selling sex to fatten their overgrown pockets in today’s Dubya-era America.
“Guns Before Butter” concerns itself with the Marxist ideal, and one can only assume that knowing the band’s desire for independence and hate for capitalism, that this song refers to a respect for Marxist theory, but also to a realization that those theories cannot work in reality. Gang of Four was always addressing the fact that the few hold the interests of the many. The best example of this idea on Entertainment!, is found in “Not Great Men”: “The past lives on in your front room / The poor still weak the rich still rule / History lives in the books at home / The books at home / It’s not made by great men.”
I know from experience that Gang of Four’s reputation for being a fearsome live act is more than lore or legend. Seeing these four boys from Leeds let me know that everything about this band you’ve heard is true. Gang of Four believe in themselves, as they beseech others to do, and their commitment to their music is just as strong today as it was 26 years ago when they recorded Entertainment! Everything was fair game and absolutely nothing was sacred. They didn’t have to live up to their image because they were their image, and to me that is so much cooler than living fast, dying young, and leaving nothing but a good looking corpse. Entertainment! is more than a pop record, it’s an artistic statement that could open you up to a different way of life. All these Green Days and Good Charlottes could learn a thing or two from listening to Entertainment!, the least of which is how to actually make a good record. But I digress.
It doesn’t matter what subject is being dissected on Entertainment!; that’s not the point. The point is that unless we learn to liberate our minds and think for ourselves, we will forever be ruled by capitalist society and the few that control it. Entertainment! isn’t about going all Fight Club on the system, because ultimately you have to exist within it. The system is too powerful to break down. Entertainment! is about learning to live within the system without it controlling your mind, body, and living essence.
The members of Gang of Four are like the Buddhist monks of punk rock music. Ever devoted to their cause, they toiled all the way into the ’90s before taking a break, only to regroup last year. Their live show is like nothing else I have ever experienced, and I can honestly say that seeing Gang of Four in concert was a life changing experience. I love this band, and I love this record. I usually hate the more politically-based punk bands, and opt to listen to the more irreverent cartoon-like misfits or the smart art rockers. Sure, The Clash was a great band and London Calling was a great record, and here I’m going to go and piss people off again, but I think Entertainment! is better (ed note: London Calling actually got more votes by our writers than Entertainment!, and was the highest-rated album on the entire list, just to clarify). It may not have been as big of a record in its influence but to me it is truer than any punk manifesto ever made. This album is as sacred as a religious text, and it would do those in my generation some good to study the true Gospel.
Similar Albums/Albums Influenced:
The Fall – Live at the Witch Trials
The Mekons – The Quality of Mercy is Not Strnen
Bloc Party – Silent Alarm