Politically charged indie-pop
Right from the start, it’s clear that Gang of Four’s Happy Now is out to make a statement. If the band was trying to hide its bold, brash, politically-motivated attitude, the album art for Happy Now featuring Donald Trump’s face is a dead giveaway.
In some ways, wearing their ideology so freely seems liberating for the band. Despite their often-dark themes, most of the songs on Happy Now offer an upbeat, groovy instrumentation that makes for a decidedly dissonant juxtaposition of music and lyrics.
Gang of Four hit their musical stride when they go all-in on this approach. The psychedelic ‘70s sound on which Gang of Four built their name blends perfectly with a modernized approach to lead guitar, drawing inspiration from Arctic Monkeys, Interpol and Rage Against The Machine.
These riffs are a testament to guitarist Andy Gill’s status as one of the premier guitarists of the post-punk movement. But, it’s hard not to feel as though the riffs on Happy Now get a bit stale as the album goes on, as each starts to sound more and more like the last. Still, Gill’s riffs undeniably steal the show from time to time, such as on “Change The Locks” and “I’m A Liar.” They’re undeniably catchy and quintessentially Gang of Four, but it’s hard not to be left wanting more of those moments.
That problem permeates other elements of Happy Now, as its overtly political intent—though authentic and true to the career of Gang of Four—admittedly feels a bit hacky here at times. Lyrically, a lack of subtlety makes some tracks, such as “Ivanka: ‘My Name’s On It'” and “White Lies” feel like a pamphlet set to music. Take the lines from “Paper Thin” for instance, “You have an opinion/ confrontation us and them/ just because you move your mouth/ don’t mean a debate.”
This is weak writing for a band known for calling out societal problems in their music. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with Gang of Four’s direct approach to tackling the social and political issues of today, Happy Now feels like the musings of world-weary rockers who, despite a career built on addressing such issues, are likely not the ones who are going to write this generation’s Freewheelin’.
Happy Now is true to form for Gang of Four, and longtime fans of the band will find plenty to enjoy here. Gill’s funky, rhythmic guitar riffs make for fun listening, and the band doesn’t pull any punches content-wise. But this one may not be for everyone, as indie fans with a proclivity for more traditional indie rock sounds likely won’t gravitate to Gang of Four’s funky grooves, and some may find their political takes to be more soapbox prophet than charismatic revolutionary.