Of all the bands who weren’t able to resist the pressure to conform to the ’80s sonic aesthetic, none were more disappointing defectors than Gang of Four. While they had fought the good fight against BBC censorship, starting with their 1979 Top of the Pops performance, they inevitably always lost. Perhaps sick of fighting after “I Love a Man in Uniform” was banned during the Falkland Wars, their sonic surrender came in the form of 1983’s pop-styled Hard and the second-chair Cure albums that followed. Perhaps older and wiser now, Gang of Four are taking a big stride towards reclaiming their legacy. While the days of Another Day/Another Dollar have passed, Gang of Four’s new album, Content, almost manages to turn the clock back.
Unlike their halcyon recordings, Content shows a surprising lack of the old righteous rage. Instead, they take a more introspective lyrical tack, examining their old axioms like they were a journal of high school poetry, and then presenting us with their thoughts on the matter now. While they don’t come right out and recant anything, it’s clear that their radical ire has definitely dimmed. Sonically, however, the first seven songs are a refreshing return to their minimalist roots. They do their best to stay clear of the pitfalls of modern production, right up until “It Was Never Gonna Turn Out Good,” at which point they totally give into it in the form of a nearly inaudible mess. Truthfully, Content’s content might best have been served if it was pared down and released as an EP-length album.
The biggest stumbling block for truly loving this album is the ad deal Gang of Four have struck with Microsoft, which uses “Naturals Not In It” to peddle an Xbox 360 attachment. Though critics have tried to justify it as a “social experiment” or a “fascination with consumerism,” at the end of the day we have to call this one how it is. Gang of Four have officially sold out, ladies and gentlemen.