Gang of Four

Songs of the Free

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Only within the context of Entertainment! and Solid Gold does Songs of the Free seem truly weak; otherwise, it has its merits and lasting value but doesn't hold up in invention and influence like its predecessors. Clunky rhythms, lumpen tempos, and morbid existentialism dampen some the songs, making the record seem less assertive and defiant. Funk plays more of a definitive role here, defenestrating the frenetics that characterized the earlier records. With bassist Dave Allen out of the fold for Shriekback, the rhythmic chemistry isn't what it used to be. Replacement Sara Lee is excellently skilled, but she doesn't have the rapport with drummer Hugo Burnham that Allen had. There's a certain dour moodiness apparent in the production, most obvious in Andy Gill's guitar on "Call Me Up"; he's less incisive, used more as an atmospheric and rhythmic device than for the dagger shots he provided before. "I Love a Man in a Uniform" wound up being the band's most well-known song, which is something of a shame. Not weak in any manner, it's just unfortunate that more exciting singles like "At Home He's a Tourist" and "Damaged Goods" didn't catch fire. Nonetheless, "Uniform" found its spot down on the disco floor; ironically, odds are pretty good that most didn't realize the lyrical content of the song. With its chorus led by female singers, "Uniform" could be mistaken for something similar in subject to "It's Raining Men." Not the case, as the song is laden with just as much irony as Go4's early album titles. Soldiers sexy! Rifles erotic! Amputations -- well, the picture is clear. [Songs of the Free was reissued in 1995 on Warner subsidiary Infinite Zero/American, with a dub mix of "I Love a Man in Uniform."]

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