Gang of Four

Hard/Solid Gold

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Gang of Four's debut album, Entertainment!, immediately made them a name to be reckoned with in post-punk circles after its release in 1979, and the group's third set, 1982's Songs of the Free, was their most popular, adding a bit of polish to their Spartan and metallic "neo-Marxist funk" and scoring a hit single in the process with the edgy-but-danceable "I Love a Man in a Uniform." This two-fer CD, then, features "the other two albums" (from the group's original run, that is), the ones that were never embraced with the same degree of enthusiasm by fans. Time has been very kind to 1981's Solid Gold; while it's not as immediately compelling as Entertainment! -- most of the songs aren't as hooky, and the production, while glossier than that on Entertainment!, doesn't flatter GoF's approach -- the material is intelligent and muscular, and the players attack the music with cool passion and understated rage, while "Paralyzed," "Cheeseburger," and "He'd Send in the Army" rank with the very best stuff they ever committed to tape. Sadly, the same can hardly be said of 1983's Hard; recorded after the departure of drummer Hugo Burnham (who on most tracks was replaced with a drum machine), Hard was an attempt to reach out to the R&B market that had surprisingly embraced "I Love a Man in a Uniform." But the slick production (by Bee Gees vets Ron Albert and Howard Albert) wears away the sharp edges of Andy Gill's guitar and Jon King's vocals until neither sound like they can be bothered, and except for the menacing "Woman Town," the songs are strictly second-rate. Since Hard has never before been on compact disc, and the Infinite Zero reissue of Solid Gold is out of print, this disc is a good place for fans to fill out their collections, but since Hard gets the leadoff position, don't be surprised if you usually start this one at track ten. (Unfortunately, Wounded Bird's packaging only lists the musicians credits from Hard, meaning no mention is made of Hugo Burnham and original bassist David Allen playing on the cuts from Solid Gold -- better luck next time, guys.)

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