Various Artists: The Problem Of Leisure – A Celebration of Andy Gill & Gang Of Four
LP | CD | CASS
Released 4th June 2021
This new collection of cover versions shows just how the work of Andy Gill and Gang Of Four influenced many and still today continues to inspire.
“The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion.” (Russell)
“The problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure?” (Gang Of Four)
At the time of his passing, Gang Of Four’s Andy Gill had been planning the release of a compilation album of cover versions that truly showed the impact of the band, spanning genres with some interpretations faithful to the originals while others rewiring the sonics into further spheres. Originally conceived to mark the 40th anniversary of their debut Entertainment!, the double album, with artwork by long-time Gang Of Four aficionado Damien Hirst, now sees the light of day. From start to finish it is a journey through the genius and lasting influence of one of the most important bands of the last half-century, covering a broad spectrum of their career.
The wheels spin around, momentum drops and rises again, and, in the last few years, the world of post-punk has once again been pushed to the fore with bands drawing on the angular guitars and social commentary of the genre’s founding bands. It is in that vein, a recognition of those that have picked up the mantle, that this compilation kicks off with IDLES running through a blistering attack of Damaged Goods. Of course. In 2021, how else should such a record begin? Urgency, energy, action. In their hands, the song becomes a battering ram, blunt and forceful, but of course, still tethered tightly to the original.
In talking about the album, many of the contributors shower Gill with thoroughly deserved praise. The adjectives flow from their tributes. A guitar anti-hero, fundamental, a foundation stone, massively influential. His angular, jarring rhythms sparred with a feeling of impulsion, a chaos that he was reining in and controlling, allowing it to burst out at unexpected moments. His playing was a collision of physicality against his instrument that layered the music of Gang Of Four with sounds that shouldn’t be studied. The happy accidents in life are often what create surprise and joy. Their outlook was rooted in Situationism. Modern life built on the pillars of spontaneity. Patterns broken and dismantled once identified.
Uwe Lausen, writing in 1963, seemed to lay the blueprint out that bands like Gang Of Four would later follow. “The experiment makes its appearance as undirected, unconscious, meaningless, spontaneous; it becomes conscious with its first repetition, when it can be described and analysed. It should then be decided if this repetition is “worthwhile” or not. If the answer is yes, the experiment will be set into the rules of the game – experiment into play.” Gill was an agent of the chaos he conducted over six strings and, in a 2019 interview, made his vision clear: “Once the sound has sort of made its point, it doesn’t necessarily need repeating.”
Through spontaneity and freedom to experiment, it’s clear how vitally important Gill became to musicians like Tom Morello, who, alongside Serj Tankien, provides a great version of Natural’s Not In It, and John Frusciante, here with Flea and The Silverlake Conservatory Youth Choir on a pure funked-up version of Not Great Men. We get In The Ditch redone by Helmet and Everything Everything also taking on Natural’s Not In It, the only track here produced by Gill. Those that stick closest to the originals do so as their own respective bands owe a heavy debt to Gang Of Four. They provide a strong backbone to the compilation, but it’s on those songs that flex and stretch the originals where things get more interesting.
Massive Attack’s 3D deconstructs Where The Nightingale Sings into a deeply haunting version, with contributions from Nova Twins and rerecorded vocals from Gill himself. Gary Newman and Ade Fenton add a dark pulsating vibe to Love Like Anthrax, while Warpaint’s version of Paralysed drifts like a dystopian dream state. In the hands of Herbert Grönemeyer and Alex Silva, I Love A Man In Uniform becomes a synth-laden experimental disco cut and La Roux’s shimmering pop version of Damaged Goods couldn’t be further from that of IDLES. Gail Ann Dorsey’s take on We Live As We Dream Alone rises out of its pumping bass and sparse beats into truly glacial choruses. And that’s before we get to Sekar Melait’s instrumental gamelan version of Not Great Men, a YouTube discovery by Andy Gill that swiftly became one of his favourite versions. The strength of the songs carry them, worked sketches that enable those involved to paint, not by numbers, over the top and imbue them with a new identity.
Many of the messages and analysis of Gang Of Four’s debut album remain incredibly pertinent today, perhaps even more so given the enforced leisure time we have lived through, much of it and many of those affected without the accorded pleasure. The personal is still political, romance is packaged, stamped and sold. Forced leisure and forced consumption, pseudo-culture and consumption of the spectacle. Revisioned and reworked, this double album is a wonderful tribute to the power and influence of Andy Gill and Gang Of Four. Their influence stretched far beyond those who mine the post-punk genre, laid clear by the variety in the interpretations recorded for this project.
The Problem Of Leisure – A Celebration of Andy Gill & Gang Of Four is available here on all formats.
Idles – Damaged Goods / Tom Morello & Serj Tankian – Natural’s Not in It / Helmet – In the Ditch / 3D x Gang of Four feat. Nova Twins – Where The Nightingale Sings / Hotei – To Hell With Poverty / Gary Numan – Love Like Anthrax / Gail Ann Dorsey – We Live As We Dream Alone / Herbert Grönemeyer feat. Alex Silva – I Love A Man in a Uniform / LoneLady – Not Great Men / JJ Sterry – 5.45 / La Roux – Damaged Goods / Everything Everything – Natural’s Not in It / Dado Villa-Lobos – Return The Gift / The Dandy Warhols – What We All Want / Warpaint – Paralysed Flea & John Frusciante – Not Great Men / The Sounds – I Love a Man in a Uniform / Hardcore Raver in Tears – Last Mile / Killing Joke x Gang of Four – Forever Starts Now (Killing Joke Dub) / Sekar Melati – Not Great Men (live version)
Words by Nathan Whittle. Find his Louder Than War archive here.