Gang of Four is supposedly, well, was supposedly an influential band back
in their heyday. Every band has a heyday, however, and success therefore must be
measured by something else other than album sales or getting mentioned in
“Rolling Stone” for all the kids who weren’t originally there. Ho hum. A new
measuring stick is most unlikely this late in the game. The public is
comfortable with bite sized histories that are alternately available to read and
also be downloaded as a ringtone. Perhaps ringtones are the new stick itself.
It’s something to ponder.
Gang of Four went through some different lineups. So many bands do this. No one
wants Aerosmith sans Joe Perry. To a (much) lesser degree, no one wants the “P”
in ELP to be Cozy Powell. Apparently, Gang of Four suffered in quality when
these lineup changes took place. Having not heard these recordings, I will just
have to take every other critic’s - as well as the infallible All Music
Guide’s – word for it. Anyway, the original band got back together and
recorded this, Return the Gift, an album of re-recordings of some of
their first albums’ songs in a sort of repair job, as the band was not happy
with the sonics of those original recordings.
This idea seems like a waste of time. You cannot recapture any past glories
after aging and changing. It is as disposable as a live album. Very few live
albums have ever been worth acquiring, and re-recorded old faves are even more
of a rip-off in theory. Did anyone even ask Gang of Four’s fans if they wanted
this album? Perhaps they do want this album, but they are going to be
disappointed. Return the Gift sounds exactly like what it is. That is,
some old guys recording some music and lyrics that sound like they couldn’t
possibly be coming out of the present. If this were a new band, this album would
be written off even more. But we must bow down to influence and history.
Well, sell this pony to someone else, mister, because I’m not impressed. It was
all I could do to not fall asleep to the three-track opening that is “To Hell
with Poverty,” “Damaged Goods,” and “Natural’s Not In It.” Point blank, if ya
want it, this is the first time I’ve even bothered with Gang of Four.
Undoubtedly it will be the last. But hey, these things come in the mail, and
it’s the duty of this writer to relate the opinions. There will be some hate
mail perhaps, accusatory ramblings informing yours truly that he should be
reviewing kiddie pop or that he’s bitter, etc. Fans are a funny lot and, more
often than not, should be subjected to a touch of the cattle prod and a splash
of cold water.
That said, at least Gang of Four should be happy with the production of their
new waste of time. It sounds crystal clear and upfront. Thick guitars and vocals
loud enough that you won’t miss any of the inane lyrics. Frankly, I don’t need
to be taken back in time when a song like “Anthrax” or “We Live as We Dream,
Alone” was ever considered remotely entertaining. But the performances, for what
they are, do not stumble, so some credit must be given for that. However, that
is all the credit this pointless release shall receive. These words must stand
as nothing but a wakeup call to the old guard and its tendency to fart one out
for the old fans/new generation. Thank Jesus the Rolling Stones never saw fit to
go back and re-record their early glories.