Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Marxist Harmonies of Gang of Four

Just discovered this: A searing performance of Gang of Four's To Hell with Poverty from the BBC program Old Grey Whistle Test in 1981. Guitarist Andy Gill describes the song as his guitar playing moment of clarity: The song is built on what is essentially a two note vamp (with some variation) that Gill finger f**ks the s**t out of and would find an influence for his guitar playing style ever after, a complete departure from his previous work (which I was a big fan of). See here how he tortures more harmonics out of his Strat than had he thrown it into a Vitamix. He also embroiders his playing with some well manipulated feedback and enough plectrum friction against the strings to start a fire and otherwise bangs his guitar like a recalcitrant tambourine.

This sonic reapplication of his guitar style is ironic when considering Gill's impressive and distinctive brand of harmonic mersch executed on the first two albums. After To Hell he essentially abandoned the rich explorations of the first two albums and instead opted for a stripped down style that can be heard to best effect on their third album (and last of their classic period), Songs of the Free, and everything else that followed. After Songs of the Free the band would embark on its caffeinated Kaja Goo Goo stage with its ironically titled album Hard (it proved to be anything but). The result was an effect drenched wash of sound, one note grooves, synths (!)Syndrums and a drawerful of various dorky electronics that'd prove to be de riguer of the period. It was the 80s, after all, and many of us were intoxicated with the new digital gadgetry. It's forgivable but in retrospect comes off about as dated as platform shoes.

Sorry, boys, but Syndrums don't quite carry the Marxist message: They're so totally bourgeois.

Just to remind, the masterwork bag of knives guitar harmonies of Gill's explorations matched with Hugo Burnham's stammering, stomping drum syncopations of If I Could Keep It for Myself. This two punch combination would then be immediately abandoned after the Solid Gold album—an album, IMHO, that was easily their best.

No comments: