“The Indian smiles, he thinks that the Cowboy is his friend. The cowboy smiles, he is glad the Indian is fooled. Now he can exploit him…”*
The three images on the cover of Leeds England’s own Gang of Four and their 1979 debut album Entertainment! depict a Native American shaking hands with a Cowboy. The colors are processed and awash with both red and white representing the stereotypical depiction of the race of each person. The images come together closer with the handshake forming into a sorta tentacle manifestation. Its eerie and thought provoking if you can recall the historical past events of the Native American Holocaust in America. Of course, that is all academic now, but the idea of a UK act bringing forth this notion of what amounted to greed and genocide is rather welcoming in the fact that at least someone talked about it and tried to highlight the truth in a sense back then. This is just one of many political statements the band brings on this album and it is a heady collection to down.
“I spend most of my money on myself so that I can stay fat.”
“We’re grateful for his left-overs…”
“Look how happy they are!”
The back cover of the album depicts a family with smiling faces with what looks like an obese man leering over them in a false embracement. I can attribute this to gluttony, but it might as well be a depiction of the disruption of the family unit by means of role in the hierarchy. The hierarchy of the family unit crossed blended with the UK situation at the time. The Falklands war was imminent and people in the lower class brought up in servitude of the King/Queen political dynamic. It is like a monster eating the town folk, but here it was class struggle and when it comes to starvation, those at the top will eat first and then eventually everyone else. It will happen in the home too with Proletarians suffering the most besides the poor.
“Those who decide what everyone will do grow rich because the decisions are made in their interest. They are pleased at how well they rule the others. The others smile too, thinking that their rulers know best…”
You can listen to something and know that it is heavy in both tone and sound by concentrating on the overall ambience. What does it make “you” feel when jamming it? I consider this a heavy album in the purest sense of the word heavy. There is no room for breathing because your attention focuses on the splendor of the melodic chaos played. It is crunchy Post-Punk, but also danceable. That combination seems like a good fit on paper, but try dancing in a club to a song such as “Damaged Goods” (ironically if you can) with a topic such as sexual politics being the main prose. The narrator of the song very much shows no self-awareness in regards to his own self. “The change will do you good / I always knew it would / Sometimes I’m thinking that I love you / But I know it’s only lust…”
In July 1972 the Special Category Status (SCS) was granted by British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, to all the prisoners convicted of Troubles*-related offences. The song “Ether” references this historical account from the perspective of the prisoners themselves. “Trapped in Heaven life style (locked on Long Kesh*) / Now looking out for pleasure (H-block torture) / It’s at the end of the rainbow (white noise in) / The happy ever after (A white room)…”
“Ether” is the first track on the album and is a beast of a song. The musicianship of each band member is exquisite with the guitar work of Andy Gill being a highlight. It’s almost like the sound of clanging cell doors being closed and opened. There is a bleakness to the track and the singing of Jon King brings forth a crucial tone as if someone is actually locked up in a cell themselves with no hope to get out. Shuttered in mind you. In addition, King’s use of the harmonica is a nice touch (reminiscent of those old timey images of people in lock-up playing the blues). The bass is also great and plods along like the beating heart of the prisoner and the accompanied drums sound like a guard knocking harder and harder on the door. The “White room” as sung, perhaps represents solitary confinement. Maybe physically or mentally who knows? Following that is the “white noise”. A prison, with all its combinations of atrocity and mental anguish, breathes down on the convict like a blanket of uncomfortable madness. The song then builds up to an incredible climax of fury as angst accompanies it throughout. The brutality of the track leads itself down a dark path and it feels like there is no escape.
“The facts are presented neutrally so that the public can make up it’s own mind. Mass communication tips it’s hat to the great men of history. Things happening in the world appears so real they could almost be in your own living room…”
Very strong emotions are spoken on this album. Whether or not you can stomach the intentional output of politics and personal reflection is up to you, but it all seems relatable in different ways. Listen to a track like “Contract”. It is a song about contradicting and challenging traditional concepts of love. “Is this really the way it is / Or a contract in our mutual interest…” What is the notion of love these days? Varying ways of which a person can interpret it him or herself would take a clustermuck of inordinate amount time. However if you sign a contract you need to read the words carefully. This song is really speaking about if this is real love, or not at all and simply a one-off. “We couldn’t perform In the way the other wanted / These social dreams put into practice in the bedroom…”
As the previous song attempts to question love, you have a track like “Natural’s Not In It” attacking the topic of Commodification head on. “The problem of leisure / What to do for pleasure / Ideal love a new purchase / A market of the senses…” Another line in the song says, “The body’s good business / Sell out maintain the interest”. Commodification is right there in your face every day. It could be products (IPhone, Car, House, Food), or even emotional ideals like selling sex (television, magazines, clothing). “The problem of leisure, what to do for pleasure?” Exactly on point. What can you do about it? Naturals not in it is correct because nothing about this stuff is natural. Commodities will all turn to ash and your body left scarred if you follow down its path in the braindead consumerism, or the sorrowful leasing of one’s own self. This song hits some deep notes and is honestly hard to listen to when taking down the context personally.
“The Police act impartially to defend the right of a minority group. Men act heroically to defend their country. However unsavory, events are shown in palatable way. People are given what they want…”
Other topics covered are the Maoist Guerilla Warfare in the song “5:45”. The eruption of instrumentals towards the end of the track once the phrase “Guerilla war struggle is a new entertainment” are ferociously catchy while album closer “Anthrax” starts with an anti-Jimmy Hendrix-esque feedback drenched orchestration that doesn’t seem patriotic at all. The song also has this unique dynamic of two parallel sets of lyrical lines sung in tandem to each other. It is as if a conversation between two folks is taking place with all dialogue only. The song even creeps on the stylings of spoken word and it is very cool to hear. The contrast between patient lyrics and the immediate distortion of harsh music makes for one of the more “arty” songs on the album.
Entertainment! has been hailed as one of the best Punk albums ever made. It is definitely in the top pedigree when it comes to the genre as well as Post-Punk, which it is more aligned with. It also feels like a cavernous wealth of spastic noise, but played with skill and thought towards the impact of its confrontation to the listener. The political and emotional degrees of blatant imagery on this album is sometimes staggering and hard to grasp on first listen, but the wealth of ideas and forthcoming (present in 2017) notion of devourment of society is at its best here than in most politically influenced records.
“The advances of technology help to make a better world. We keep in touch with our heritage…”
In the end, Gang of Four did the world a favor and gave us material that can be studied, praised, dissected, vilified, hated, and then loved to death on the context and concept of whatever it is, they are saying. This is entertainment indeed. Dig it…
1. (*Album artwork and quotes inspired by the Situationist International group who’s art is derived primarily from anti-authoritarian Marxism and the avant-garde art movements of the early 20th century, particularly Dada and Surrealism. 1957-1972.*)
2. (*The Troubles is referring to the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland during the late 20th century. Also known internationally as the Northern Ireland conflict. It was primarily political and nationalistic and fueled by historical events, but not a religious conflict. It lasted from 1968 to 1998.*)
Majesty's Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh during the Troubles in Northern
Ireland, was used as a prison for dissenters who may or may not have caused
conflicts during the event.*)