Gang of Four

Shrinkwrapped

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The completely unforeseen, sensational live show was one thing, but surely the reconstituted Gang of Four couldn't deliver a new LP as shockingly good. Surely Mall was the sort of dull, disillusioning disappointment we could expect from the '90s version. Wrong again. Singer Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill not only make up for that tepid album, but exorcise the lifeless ghost they left off with over a decade ago, Hard, and reclaim their spot as one of the most original, subtly bracing, innovative, and unique bands around. No past tense about it, and no nostalgia either. Rather than ridiculously attempt to revisit their classic Entertainment!, the pair, augmented by bassists Dean Garcia and Phil Butcher and drummers Monti and Dave Axford, retain only the use of harsh dance beats as the building block for Gill's terse blasts of clipped, jagged, circular-saw guitar. King's vocals are sweeter, kinder, and more soothing than the side-of-the-mouth style he once favored, and the melodies are more conventionally prominent, but he still conveys as much intent as any vintage moment on Solid Gold, and he's often all but buried in the mix, struggling to get out (signaling their uncompromising artistic intent, as if Albini was behind the board instead of Gill). The single "Tattoo" is the obvious starting place, but it's more obtuse, patient, and unnerving stuff such as "I Parade Myself" (oh yes, the lyrics are as good as the title suggests; they do that well again too) and to a lesser extent "Showtime, Valentine" that forge their own new signature style. When bands come back from a decade of breakup, a passable LP is practically a victory. That Shrinkwrapped is a firecracker, and would be a firecracker no matter who made it, is cause for a goddamn party. That Andy Gill is a dangerous guitar player again is a particularly "stop the presses, prodigal returns" payoff. Pop a cork and put this one on for all your pals, and watch them come up and say, "Who is this?" They are officially back.

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