February 21, 2005

The Desire Realm of the 5 Destinies

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If you have ever been remotely interested in punk, dance, sincerity, irony and/or anarchosyndicalism, you owe it to yourself to check out Gang of Four. The Leeds-based group formed in 1977 and unleashed two of the greatest punk albums of the 70s before withering into synth-schmaltz by the mid-80s. A substantial influence on everyone from The Minutemen to The Rapture, the group was one of the first acts to merge cavernous dub, pulsating disco and splenetic garage.

Even better, the band members were some of the first authentic punk communists, novelties in nilhilism-infested Britain. The group’s name invokes China’s Cultural Revolution, and nearly every song references such time-tested adolescent grievances as hypocrisy, commercialism, industrialization and jingoism. But rather than orchestrating didactic sermons in Marxist theory, GOF more or less brought the revolution, producing dexterous, feverish youth-anthems. Their best songs are spandex-tight spasms of funk and feedback, anarchy and arrogance, sarcasm and orgasm. The original line-up reunited earlier this year for a few U.K. gigs and will make their American debut in April at the Coachella Valley Music Festival. To honor this momentous (and excessively priced) occasion, I present the band’s five best songs:

1. Damaged Goods (from Entertainment!)

GOF’s finest moment has barely anything to do with revolutionary politics or cultural critiques. “Damaged Goods” is a slick pop number with an aggression that surges out of the band’s massive libidos instead of their affiliations with the proletariat: “Sometimes I’m thinking that I love you.” Trust me, kids, this sort of thing made sense in the 70s! Blithering bass, neurotic guitars and football-anthem drums fall into lock-step pausing only to introduce suspiciously apathetic back-up vocals. By the time, Jon King starts sputtering, “Damaged goods / send them back / I can’t work / I can’t achieve,” the subliminal links between dialectical materialism, patriarchal domination and class abuse will have even the most timid Gender Studies professor salivating. Or maybe not. Either way, it’s one hell of an eruption.

2. To Hell With Poverty (from Another Day, Another Dollar)

Perhaps GOF’s funkiest song, “To Hell With Poverty” latches onto a blustery riff as King drops his fa