Although I’ve never been the biggest fan of the genre, I’ve often wondered where the world would be without punk music. The revolution it spawned in the ’70s and the artists it has influenced throughout the years is undeniable. Personally, my taste leans more toward one of punk’s offshoots, post-punk, than the rhizome from which it was cut. So before my good friend Christian first introduced me to Gang Of Four’s seminal debut, Entertainment!, just over two years ago, I was skeptical to say the least. But the sheer aural force of hearing that breathtaking album for the first time awoke in me something Joey Ramone and Sid Vicious had always left slumbering. It was a call to political awareness that was about more than brainless anarchy or self-medication as a means to escape from the various institutions that oppress each of us. The approach pioneered by Gang of Four in the late ’70s and early ’80s laid the groundwork for all those vibrant post-punk rockers still emerging on today’s scene.
As a sophomore effort, Solid Gold carried the same banner of political awareness first shouldered by Entertainment!, if not in a more subdued, than at least more unconventional way. It’s hard for me to imagine Bloc Party singing about the “Price Of Gas” if Jon King hadn’t first sung out against consumerism in the quirky “Cheeseburger.” And I’d be willing to bet that The Rakes wouldn’t be protesting the drudgery of the 9-5 workday if not for “A Hole In The Wallet.” It has me hoping that maybe Billy Joe Armstrong will re-listen to Gang Of Four’s first two albums before he steps back into the studio to make the follow-up to American Idiot (Dear God, please!).
Those influenced aside, Solid Gold, as a stand alone collection of songs that characterized the post-punk movement it would later foster, is rather remarkable. It’s easy to get lost in Hugo Burnham’s methodical drumming as bassist Dave Allen manufactures his sparse bass plucks; Andy Gill’s skittery guitar riffs providing ample contrast to King’s half-sung, half-spoken lyrical decries. Opener “Paralysed” finds King lamenting the very system we all inherit: “Wealth is for the one that wants it / If you can earn it” and later, a near admit of defeat: “History is the reason I’m washed out.” But hope is not lost, as on follower “What We All Want,” King seeks an answer to his general disinterest with the modern age: “Could I be happy with something else ?/ I need something to fill my time.” Solid Gold was not a call to arms like Never Mind The Bollocks was, and that’s what’s makes it so genius. King wasn’t telling anyone to dismantle the government, but rather to always question it. In the end, being subversive will always be more artistic in my book than outright rebellion and a few power chords to back it up.
So if you can forget for a moment that Gang Of Four had the privilege of being on a major label, the impact of King’s pronouncements ring truer still. A bit more introspective than its predecessor, Solid Gold proved that the Gang could spread their message while stretching their compositions and turning down the musical assault, if only a sliver. With Solid Gold, Gang Of Four convinced me, and an entire generation of post-punk artists, that after all, maybe the best way to change the system is from the inside.