The tale of Gang of Four is one that stretches to the very beginnings of the post-punk movement. Active from 1977-1983, and then again from 1987-1997, the band is back once again (with another new lineup) for their first album since 1995’s Shrinkwrapped. Even with such a storied history, the band members are heroes in the scene, innovators who have taken the sounds and heaviness of rock and mixed into it everything from dub to dance-punk elements. Despite the group’s place in history, though, Content doesn’t feel like a masterpiece; instead, it’s clear the band still has some growing to do.
One of the album’s strong points is its cohesiveness and instant appeal. On the first listen, its tracks meld together brilliantly, and it easily merits multiple excited listens. That ability stems from the universal sound created in the 10 tracks. Take, for instance, two of my more beloved tracks on the album: “A Fruitfly in the Beehive” and “I Can See From Far Away”. These two cuts in particular illustrate the lovable parts of the album and the obstacles listeners will have to overcome.
In terms of the positive, both tracks are uber-mellow jams, each with perfect instrumentation. The first track in particular has a sweet groove with enough tiny flourishes and achy vocals to facilitate multiple repeat listens. The vocals in the second track are some of the finest on the album, equal parts nerd prog and goosebump-inducing cool, all while riding sweetly on a constant yet un-mechanical rhythm.
Focusing more on the negative, these tracks also happen to epitomize the lack of overall deviation found throughout the effort. Yes, a solid, unified sound is thoroughly welcomed with arms wide open, but there’s not enough extra unquantifiable panache – that certain sparkle about the songs after the first few listen-throughs to make them stand out – which means tracks tend to bleed into each other too well. In turn, that makes it all that more difficult to discern truly stand-out moments, which even the most focused of albums need from time to time.
That isn’t to say, though, that there aren’t some moments of wing-spreading beyond their normal heaps of experimentation to be found. While not the most groundbreaking technique, “Who Am I?” does its best to amp up the energy level on the album, striving not so much for extra noise but for an accelerated pacing that helps to attract more ears as opposed to other songs. “It Was Never Gonna Turn Out Too Good” is a lot like some other tracks, but its use of vocal effects in the form of roboticized singing is a small enough construct to make the linear groove of this album momentarily that much more appealing.
My favorite part out of the album (which is saying a lot since, despite some objections, I did enjoy this record) goes back to the growth the band still has coming down the pipeline. There’s a sense on this album of incompleteness, an awkwardness that permeates almost as strongly as the political undertones and layers of influences. Despite the craftsmanship, the technical mastery, and the succinctness of it all, this record shakes and rattles between the perfect veneer. Be it from an as-yet-uncertain lineup or a sign of life and things to come from this ensemble, the unknown and the unheard may be the most fulfilling aspects Content has to offer.