Album Review: Gang Of Four – Happy Now

Happy Now

Andy Gill will pardon you, but he’s heard it all before – meaning the gag about since he’s now the only original member of Gang Of Four post the departure of Jon King wouldn’t it be better to call the group he now fronts Gang Of One or something?

He’d probably crack a smile but move on. Even if that first line-up, which coalesced around the Leeds University art-punk scene of the late nineteen seventies were still together, it could hardly be expected for them to fossilise; whilst the last album featuring King – 2011’s Content – was closer to the discordant, charged post-punk schema for which they were renowned, stasis has never really been Gill’s thing.

A curmudgeon who’s earned the right to be so, there’s still something very energising around him. Gill, Thomas McNeice, John ‘Gaoler’ Sterry and Tobias Humble are a new incarnation as V2.0, V3.0 or whatever number you want to ascribe to it, and Happy Now positively marks a re-tooling of their sound after the halfway house which was 2015’s What Happens Next.

One thing that hasn’t gone is the GoF standing commitment to remaining polemicists. Happy Now contains Ivanka – My Name’s On It, a scathing commentary on the First Daughter’s exhortations to humility and hard work in building fortune and character. Hanging together over industrial/funk programming and darkly soulful harmonies, in form it’s not unlike the recent John Grant collaboration Creep Show, delivering snark via a similarly impish twist to a long-established formula.

This man/machine flip is a tone that largely dominates; Gill using his autonomy, consciously reinventing to survive and not being entombed in the past. This tougher and more contemporary Gang Of Four continue to take matters into their own hands on Alpha Male – lyrically another shot aimed at Trump – but this is a record on which actions are forced to speak louder than words, Don’t Ask Me a confluence of beats and subversion that intends to kidnap minds losing it in a club as opposed to bodies wiping teargas from their eyes.

It is possible here, given Happy Now’s synthesis leans ever more heavily towards production than live instrumentation, of falling victim to conductor syndrome, where the players are relegated in the eyes of the public into little more than puppets. This isn’t a fit here; despite an obvious lack of dependence on the guitar-bass-drums formula, the album’s contours are still clearly felt, Paper Thin sounding like it could’ve been recorded in 1983 or 2013 but without the lack of depth that solo projects by any other name usually suffer from.

Few bands have tried to pull off what Gang Of Four are attempting to do, in keeping their loyalists happy whilst at the same time essentially steering a course directly away from them. Happy Now is the record Andy Gill wanted to make, when he wanted to make it, how he wanted to make it.

Even if the idea is sometimes more inspirational than the end result, it’s proof that old dogs can make up their own tricks.

(Andy Peterson)

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