Record Review: Gang Of Four – To Hell With Poverty

EMI | UK | 12" | 1981 | 12EMI 5193

EMI | UK | 12″ | 1981 | 12EMI 5193

Gang Of Four: To Hell With Poverty UK 12″ [1981]

  1. To Hell With Poverty
  2. Capital [It Fails Us Now]

I had a bad brush with Gang Of Four back in 1981. I’d only read about the group and when I discovered that WPRK-FM [Rollins College] had made the leap from prog rock to New Wave when I had not been looking in 1981, I enjoyed listening to music on the radio without ads that was exactly like the music I was spending my lunch money on. Sure, the 100 watt signal was tough to receive, but that was just a detail. It was during that time period that I finally heard this band that I’d only read about for the last year. The song I heard was “Anthrax” and I have to admit that I was less than enraptured by the numb delivery of the song. Given that I’d hear them described as a funk band, I felt that perhaps that description was far off of the mark.

Unfortunately, I wrote off Gang Of Four at that time and never bothered with buying any of their records for quite a long time. I saw the video for “Is It Love” and it was another ball of wax entirely. Sort of like a dour ABC! This confused me but I still didn’t bite. It was some time in the late 80s when I finally heard “I Love A Man In Uniform” and I could hardly believe that it was the work of the same band who had recorded “Anthrax.” Also, by 1990, I started to pay more attention to the bands and releases of the New Wave era that I had not paid attention to the first time around. I could see which way the wind was blowing. The music of the [then] present was beginning to skate on much thinner ice than I was comfortable with. When I saw this 12″ in the bins at a record show it was exactly the kind of record that I was gunning for at the time, so I purchased it.

“To Hell With Poverty” makes quite an impact! I can only ask why I was not hearing this song a decade earlier when it was originally released! As anti-capitalist funk, it’s right up there with early Heaven 17. Of course, the instrumentation is completely different. This single doesn’t sound as if any synths were used at all, and the abrasive guitar lines sounded like air raid sirens while the bass issued thick planks of sound that hit so hard you might feel your breath knocked out of you.

The B-side was a incredibly prescient look at a society constructed on debt at a time when widespread credit wasn’t the norm to the extent that it is today. The taut execution of these songs belies their intellectualized passion. Gang Of Four were serious about highlighting the teeth in the gears of Capitalism. Or were they? Thirty years later, GOF vocalist Jon King is a tool of the system! A sad day, comrades!

nang of 4 - isitloveBR7AI only have this single, a Brazilian “Is It Love” 7″ and the remastered “Solid Gold” CD by Gang Of Four in my Record Cell. I need to be more mindful about bringing the collection up to snuff in spite of any cognitive dissonance regarding the career arc of singer King. The first four albums and adjacent singles by all rights should be int he collection. I realize that GAng Of Four have continued in various lineups up until the release of “Content” in 2011, but King’s agency bio reveals that the group finally fissured for good last year. We’ll adopt a wait-and-see posture.

– 30 –

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10 Responses to Record Review: Gang Of Four – To Hell With Poverty

  1. Echorich says:

    Go4 are right near the top when it comes to my list of Post Punk bands… I was completely drawn to Entertainment’s angluar political punk. It was music with sharp edges and lyrics that were full of outrage. Entertainment appealed to the The Clash lover in me. It was the logical next step – political with little regard for rock conventions. I think there was a white funk element to Entertainment that reminded me of what was going on in the No Wave in NYC as well.
    Solid Gold was a beast. Now the sound of Post Punk Anarchy – had a meaty bass and drums beat to anchor glass shards of the guitars.
    They survived the loss of Dave Allen’s enourmous bass, but Sara Lee was an equal in my mind. Songs Of The Free is where the funk really begins to seep through to the front. They might have found favor on the dancefloor, but the vision and the politics were still very much there. Adding Sara Lee’s vocals along with girl group back ups made SOTF even more interesting as the themes were darker at the same time.
    I have a real soft spot for Hard. Easily seen as their least successful album, I totally disagree. The exploration of dislocation from society, learning to become self aware or what the consequences of that are and as ever, consumerism were wrapped in a more mature sound but a logical progression of sound all the same. Is It Love and A Man WIth A Good Car are real favorites of mine.
    I will admit that I didn’t pay much attention to Mall and Shrinkwrapped in the 90’s but enjoy them now much more.
    Return The Gift was interesting listening, a band re-evaluating their work, with some success. But it was Content’s release last year that really took me by surprise. 32 years on and their themes and explorations are still very valid. There’s an edge and intent that most bands can’t pull off. If the final track on Content, Second Life, is the last song they ever release, it is a wonderful reminder of how committed to their music and musical voice they have always been.
    Oh and as for the use of Natural Is Not In It in the Xbox Kinect commercial – I see it as an extension of the questions they’ve always had about culture and consumerism and maybe admitting that they can’t escape it’s clutches.


  2. VersionCrazy says:

    Top drawer stuff this single. First heard the A side courtesy of John Peel, but ‘Capital’ very much it’s equal. Second life indeed for Jon King though, eh? Just to show how small a world it is, a few years back I was learning to drum and for that week’s class I brought in a Gof4 track for an exercise on deconstructing rhythms and turned out one of the other students was an employee of his! Said he was a good ‘un all in all.

    ‘Solid Gold’ does it for me on the album front followed a close second by ‘Songs Of The Free’. I realise the critics choice is far and away ‘Entertainment’ but it had come and gone before I found out about ’em whereas ‘Solid Gold’ and its satellite singles were at the right time. Criminally lacking in commercial success though.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      VersionCrazy – I’d read somewhere that GO4 bt the hand that fed them a few too many times, lyrically, so after the BBC declared them a hot potato, word has it that EMI thought “screw this, let’s give that Duran band the push!”


  3. jsd says:

    I too did not “get” Go4 the first time around. I really discovered them in the early 2000s, I’d say. But, better late than never, eh? I love Entertainment!, Solid Gold and Songs Of The Free unreservedly. “Hard” sounds like Shriekback what with the inescapable Linn drum. Not bad though. I’m rarely in the mood for “Mall”, and “Shrinkwrapped” only has one good track (Tattoo).


  4. JT says:

    The differences between “Hard” and Shriekback are:
    Shriekback were still consistently good at this point in time, and would be for a while longer.
    Go4 jumped the shark with this LP [I do like A Man with a Good Car and Silver Lining though], and never recovered.
    Shriekback were now in possession of Go4’s Dave Allen.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – I only ever heard “Is It Love” and the juxtaposition of disco strings and the ganked up bass of Sara Lee sort of worked for me. Never heard the album, though!


      • Echorich says:

        On Hard Go4 explores a very narrow musical bandwidth, but it’s tense and taunt. There’s an exploration of repetition that really attracts me on Hard as well. Oh and as for my ramblings that started off these comments, I am very proud of myself for not hitting send on anything too OTT…It was written after about a half dozen Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ales after work…


  5. JT says:

    Sara Lee isn’t the problem with Hard; her bass work is fine [as is additional bassist Jon Astrop].
    Songs of the Free, the previous Go4 LP, was much more pop than Entertainment or Solid Gold, but it still worked. String synths and Go4 just don’t work together, and the disco beats all over Hard mostly make me want to… well… listen to Entertainment instead.
    [String synths in other contexts by other bands work just fine for me, as do disco beats].
    The songwriting on Hard also just isn’t up to snuff.
    Woman Town? A Piece of My Heart? I Fled?
    [OK, Independence is pretty good].
    First time I heard Is It Love I wanted to vomit, and I still do when I think of how far they drifted from “What We All Want”, or basically all of Entertainment in so short a time.


  6. Pingback: Gang Of Four – To Hell With Poverty/Capital (It Fails Us Now (1981) – Punk Scrawled Artist

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