Gang Of Four: Songs Of The Free DLX RM US CD 
- Call Me Up
- I Love A Man In A Uniform
- We Live As We Dream, Alone
- It Is Not Enough
- Life! It’s A Shame
- I Will Be A Good Boy
- The History of the World
- Muscle For Brains
- Of The Instant
- The World At Fault
- I Love A Man In Uniform [Dub]
When Dave Allen left Gang Of Four for the less sunny climes of Shriekback, many wondered how the mothership was going to fare. By the evidence of this album, it had every reason to expect continued growth and possibly greater success. The third Gang of Four album featured new recruit Sara Lee [ex-League Of Gentlemen] adding the jagged and brusque bass ganks we had come to know and love by that time. The biggest change was in bringing in co-producer Mike Howlett to add some commercial potential to the mix.
“Call Me Up” assured listeners that they could still depend of Gang Of Four for a Post-Punk funk shot full Marxist theory. Andy Gill’s howling metallic guitar still sounded like a wounded beast but the drum track sounded like explosions on the dancefloor. The vocals of Jon King were still high and strident; offset occasionally by the deep undertow of Andy Gill’s contrapuntal vocal harmonies. It almost gelled as dance music but was fundamentally too left field to be accused of pandering.
The first single, “I Love A Man In A Uniform,” was the furthest thing from pandering, coming as it did on the heels of the Falklands War which undoubtedly saw its message banned from the restrictive BBC wartime playlists of the time. The lyric relentlessly mocked militarism, patriarchal roles, and rugged individualism over a beat of drums so gated that they sounded like gunfire; appropriate, in this context. For a change. It was a lurching, tech funk monster that actually reached the Top 30 on the Billboard dance charts. Joy Yates backing vocals added deeply ironic soul to this number.
The tightly coiled funk riffing of Gill coupled with the booming backbeat of Hugo Burnham’s drums would seem to leave little room for vocalizing. For once, the metallic shriek of Gill’s guitar met its match in the ragged vocals of King, who dominated the cut by vacillating between falsetto singing and going into the red with his performance. As the song ended, all of the other instruments dropped out of the mix, leaving King alone to finish singing the chorus at full volume.
After that moment of maximum impact, the album delivered its masterstroke with the subtle polyrhythms of “Life! It’s A Shame.” Burnham’s drums kept a steady, droning rhythm abetted by interjected bass gank’s from Sara Lee. Burnham’s fills in doubletime were building a massive patina of complexity to it all. With Gill adding his bass contrapuntal vocals and some torn metal guitar over the top reaches a kind of Post-Punk nirvana here. The whole track had a clockwork balance that was a n example of perfection in arranging in dense layers of sound with every element in perfect alignment with the other factors in the mix.
“I Will Be A Good Boy” had a strong dub reggae vibe with a loose, airy mix with King playing melodica; always a sign of Agustus Pablo influence. King and Gill shared the vocals on this one with Gill dominant for once. The album proper ended with the subtle foreboding of “Of The Instant,” which crept through the night, keeping hidden in the shadows as it asked “who owns what you do – who owns what you use?” The normally slamming rhythms of Burnham were nowhere to be found this time.
The bonus tracks were the “Uniform” UK B-side “The World At Fault” with the US dub mix of “I Love A Man In A Uniform.” The former was a slow tempo funk burner with another anguished King vocal giving it his all. The latter was a true dub mix of the single with dubbed out vocals and a maximal approach to reconstructing the track; now filled with clattering beatbox that sounded like military drums.
The brief album [45 minutes with two bonus tracks] took great strides in assigning a smoothness to what was a fundamentally rough and even harsh band. The big beat drums were employed here to round off some of their sharper edges, while the complexity of the arrangements kept it all from going down too easily. If Mike Howlett was the guy who could take OMD into the Top 20 and jump start their career, I can see the thought in getting him to add his production savvy to the GO4 mix. The album listens very well and invited replay once it was over. I now have two of the first three “classic” Gang of Four albums. I need to get “Entertainment!” and would be willing to give “Hard” a listen before perhaps venturing further afield.
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