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All Killer – Entertainment! (1979)

February 8th, 2019 · Posted by Skuds in Music · 1 Comment · Music

When thinking about albums that meet the criteria for being all killer/no filler, there is only one place to start and that is the 1979 album Entertainment! by Gang of Four. I may sometimes change my mind about what my favourite song or single is, depending on mood, but if anybody asks me what my favourite album is this is always the answer.

When this came out I was 17 and interested in left-wing politics and post-punk so everything about this album was perfect for me. Even the advertising campaign for it in the NME – though with hindsight you do wonder how the record company persuaded the Marxist hardliners to indulge in advertising. Or how they even signed to EMI in the first place. The adverts focussed on the cartoon from the cover about cowboys exploiting Indians, which was a very striking cover.

When the album came out I already had the Damaged Goods single from the year before. One of the tracks on the B side was Armalite Rifle. A very strong track but nowhere to be found on Entertainment! which is some indiction of the quality of material they had on the album.

So what is so good about it? Well there was the obvious appeal to a stroppy teenager or a bunch of songs where nearly every other line of the lyrics would make a good slogan, and the sheer anger and energy throughout it all. Should I have grown out of all that? Maybe, but that is not all there is to it. There is also the music, a mixture of punk, post-punk, funk, bits of reggae and some out-and-out noise.

What is most appealing to me is how you can listen to it and each of the four parts can easily be separated from each other and yet it all hangs together. There are points where the bass and drums lay down a relentless funk-inflected rhythm, while Andy Gill’s guitar is throwing out manic stabbing chords and Jon king rants over the top of it. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

If I try to make up songs in my head they end up like songs from this album. I might think of a bassline and get that repeating in my head until it is fixed there, and add some drum beat. Once the rhythm is established I will add it bits of guitar and vocals. nothing to complicated because I can’t keep it all in my head. Given all that, when an album came along that sounded like the noises already in my head I had to fall in love with it.

But what about Love Like Anthrax? Some people might say that is filler. It has a different character to the rest of the songs. At first it just sounds like a racket to a lot of people, but to me it is brilliant. These things are subjective after all. It starts with a load of feedback, goes into a pounding drumbeat and thumping bass, to which more psychopathic guitar is added and then there are the vocals: singing in one channel with other lyrics spoken on the other channel, and every now and then to two coincide. It is a masterpiece and not filler at all.

There are no tracks on here that I do not love. At the time I guess that I Found That Essence Rare was my least favourite, but in about 2005 I went to the Go4 re-union concert in London and that song was a triumphant end to the show and a highlight of the evening. At that time there were a whole load of new bands that sounded like they were influenced by Gang of Four, many of whom openly admitted to the influence – Franz Ferdinand, the Bravery, the Futureheads, Kaiser Chiefs, the Killers – no wonder Go4 decided to get back together then.

I am not alone in my devotion to this album. Apparently it was a firm favourite of REM, and inspired Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers to play bass. I think he may have even been in a band that would cover the whole entertainment! album from beginning to end in concerts. Kurt Cobain also listed this as one of his top fifty albums of all time.

Wide-ranging topics of songs, appealing to young radicals, all wrapped up in direct and vital instrumentation that is not over-complicated but extremely effective. You might think there is a better album out there, but you would be wrong.

The real tragedy about this album is that it was too good. In a classic example of peaking too soon, the band set the bar so high they could not better it. Solid Gold and Songs of the Free both had good songs on them but not the same consistantly high quality throughout the whole set. I think they got a bit closer in 1995 with Shrinkwrapped, although the original rhythm section had gone by then. I don’t think it did too well, but I liked it. Return the Gift was decent, but it was re-recordings of old tracks, which is cheating a bit.  Content from 2011 would have been brilliant from anybody else, but from Gang of Four it suffered by comparison with the mighty Entertainment!

In the same way, any other albums in this series will also suffer from comparison to this. I may love them but they will never be as good as this.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • 1979 – Street Life

    […] It was Entertainment! by Gang of Four. I don’t need to say anything about it. I have already written about it some length. Other albums I was listening to a lot can be split into two really. The ones I listened to before […]

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