Gang Of Four: Return The Gift (2005)

Just read that Gang of Four founder Andy Gill has passed, which inspired me to dig into some of their old albums for the first time in a while.  Now, I'll be the first to admit that Gang of Four were always a band I found hugely inspirational, yet didn't necessarily care to pop into the stereo all that often.  Their earliest punk-era output, notable for Gill's distinctive and influential jagged, "angular" guitar sound, was fascinating, but something I preferred in small doses, interspersed on mix tapes rather than over the course of an entire album.

I'll also admit that the one album I listen to with any regularity these days is (presumably) something of a sacrilege for band purists.  But screw it, I like what I like.  For Return the Gift, the band returned to the studio and re-recorded a number of old favorites, using more contemporary production.  And me, I love it.  Yes, it takes Gang of Four and makes them sound like Franz Ferdinand, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Some of those early records were a little thin and brittle, and while that may have been appropriate at the time, the enhanced fullness of sound, the huge and booming bass and drums, makes this sound like a modern-day classic of stunningly powerful indie rock.

The tracklist is a veritable greatest hits -- "To Hell With Poverty," "Damaged Goods," "I Love A Man In Uniform," "At Home He's a Tourist" -- and thus, not surprisingly, it's a song-for-song monster, blowing any contemporaneous guitar-based alt.rock records out of the water.  Set aside any loyalty you may have to the original recordings, and anyone stumbling upon this in 2005 as the debut release from a new band would have to admit it's a serious wall-shaking mofo.  Gill's steel-clang guitar shards are still there, but more riveting than grating this time around, and finally getting the bone-chilling rhythm section they deserve.  The more funk-oriented songs in particular actually make you want to get up and shake, rather than just listen and academically note their funkiness.

Give it a shot.

Here's an "At Home He's A Tourist" rip:
 And a rip of "I Love A Man In Uniform":
Ok, as long as we're here, here's the video for the original "Damaged Goods":
(And, for the sake of comparison, here's the rerecorded version from Return the Gift.)
Alas, no Spotify streaming for this one.

Comments

  1. Interesting question whether it's a good thing if a band re-records its catalogue. It depends, of course. I would say in this case with Gang of Four, the answer is no. Nothing can replace the jarring sound of the opening guitar in the original version of "Ether," say. There might be other cases where the answer would differ, especially if there's a glaring technical issue or some such in the original. Like for instance, in the 70s Bob Marley and the Wailers re-recorded a lot of their earlier material from their early days in Jamaica, where the technical facilities couldn't compete with those of major labels.

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    1. I think it turns on how much loyalty you have to the originals. I'm sure if one of their peer bands whose albums are a much bigger part of my life (say, Wire or Joy Division) were to re-record the albums (setting aside Curtis's demise), I'd be pretty taken aback. But I didn't really get into Gang of Four until much later, and even then didn't feel the same devotion to the albums, so hearing the songs recorded as if the efforts of a contemporary 2000s band didn't offend my sensibilities, and I was just able to enjoy them as records with far more enjoyable aesthetics. (I agree that the Marley re-recordings are much better; but wonder if some earlier fans might prefer the originals, technical shortcomings notwithstanding.)

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