Scrolling Headlines:

UMass tuition set to rise 3-4 percent for 2017-2018 school year -

July 18, 2017

PVTA potential cuts affect UMass and five college students -

July 10, 2017

New director of student broadcast media at UMass this fall -

July 10, 2017

Whose American Dream? -

June 24, 2017

Man who threatened to bomb Coolidge Hall taken into ICE custody -

June 24, 2017

Cale Makar drafted by Colorado Avalanche in first round of 2017 NHL Entry Draft -

June 24, 2017

Conservatives: The Trump experiment is over -

June 17, 2017

UMass basketball lands transfer Kieran Hayward from LSU -

May 18, 2017

UMass basketball’s Donte Clark transferring to Coastal Carolina -

May 17, 2017

Report: Keon Clergeot transfers to UMass basketball program -

May 15, 2017

Despite title-game loss, Meg Colleran’s brilliance in circle was an incredible feat -

May 14, 2017

UMass softball loses in heartbreaker in A-10 title game -

May 14, 2017

Navy sinks UMass women’s lacrosse 23-11 in NCAA tournament second round, ending Minutewomen’s season -

May 14, 2017

UMass softball advances to A-10 Championship game -

May 13, 2017

UMass basketball adds Rutgers transfer Jonathan Laurent -

May 13, 2017

UMass women’s lacrosse gets revenge on Colorado, beat Buffs 13-7 in NCAA Tournament First Round -

May 13, 2017

Meg Colleran dominates as UMass softball tops Saint Joseph’s, advances in A-10 tournament -

May 12, 2017

Rain keeps UMass softball from opening tournament play; Minutewomen earn A-10 honors -

May 11, 2017

Former UMass football wide receiver Tajae Sharpe accused of assault in lawsuit -

May 10, 2017

Justice Gorsuch can save the UMass GEO -

May 10, 2017

Gang of Four loses its essence on dreary ‘What Happens Next’

(Thomas Quack/Flickr)

(Thomas Quack/Flickr)

There is something strangely ironic in seeing post-punk’s most fervent Marxists indulge in one of the more egregious trends in the music business. Though this record is ostensibly by “Gang of Four,” in reality, “What Happens Next,” released Feb. 24, is more of a guest-studded solo album from lead guitarist Andy Gill than anything else.

To see a band that made one of the most ideologically raw and pure records of the punk era, its incomparable 1979 debut, “Entertainment!,” carry on with only one of the four equally crucial members that made it legendary is quite painful.

Though the band has made decent records without its extraordinary original rhythm section, they have all included vocalist Jon King. King’s politically charged outbursts, and their interactions with Gill’s fierce, razor-sharp guitar playing, were an immeasurable part of the band’s sound.

To be fair, “What Happens Next” does not really try to be a Gang of Four record either. Mostly, the album sounds like it was plucked right out of the dying days of alt-rock’s mid-90s twilight period. Aesthetically, it sounds like the band took all of its cues from a beat-up copy of Nine Inch Nails’ “The Downward Spiral,” a Berlin-period David Bowie vinyl and, maybe, a copy of “Entertainment!” itself.

Gill’s playing comes to the fore in scattered outbursts of feedback or tinny riffing, but other than that, “What Happens Next” is unrelentingly dominated by colorless, dreary and generic electro-rock sounds. The album’s rhythms and percussion are robotic and subservient to Gill’s varied inconsistent whims.

When there are bass lines, they are often buried deep in the mix, rendering them mostly irrelevant. Rhythm, so key to Gang of Four’s sound, is treated with indifference. And with no consistent, powerful rhythms to build off of, “What Happens Next” fails to get off the ground.

New vocalist John Sterry does actually do a somewhat admirable job with the scattered pile of instrumentation he is handed on opener, “When The Nightingale Sings.” His dystopian lyrics and dramatic, impassioned delivery do their best to inject some life into the song, which is an instrumental train wreck. The synth bass, glitchy live drums and indifferent riffing from Gill simply have no idea what to do with each other – it’s like arriving at a four-way stop on the road where each driver sits motionlessly, waiting for someone to take charge and do something.

Allison Mosshart of the Kills mostly turns “Broken Talk” and “England’s In My Bones” into Kills outtakes, with the band weakly morphing into Mosshart’s vehicle. Though “Obey The Ghost” has an excitingly atmospheric instrumental intro, it develops into a baffling, messy dirge, complete with some of the Facebook and social media-bashing lyrics that now seem obligatory for every veteran punk band. Rather than leading the listener in exciting new directions, the band seems content with simply telling the listener to get off their damn lawn.

Perhaps sensing his own absence, Gill cuts through the endless fog with some much-needed, vicious leads at the beginning of “Isle Of Dogs.” But even though it ends up being one of the album’s more forceful, convincing tracks, its endgame is incoherent and hard to discern.

Not even “First World Citizen” lives up to its original promise. This is especially underwhelming, because what’s better Gang of Four territory than class tension? But even this track, with its flat bass line and stoic percussion, fails to spark anything but disappointment.

The album’s one great moment is, not surprisingly, its most minimalist. “The Dying Rays,” a collaboration with German pop superstar Herbert Grönemeyer, showcases Gill’s compositional brilliance.
He mostly lets Grönemeyer do the heavy lifting, surrounding his vocals with a simple, but effective chord progression, and minimal electronics. Fittingly, the track that’s least reminiscent of Gang of Four’s body of work is the album’s finest moment by a mile.

Gang of Four was never content to remain stationary, so the disappointment that stems from a listen to “What Happens Next” is not because it has changed. It stems from the fact that they seem to be imitating the types of groups who became famous by imitating them. They changed the sound of punk rock forever, but seem to have forgotten that 35 years after the fact. Down to only one of their original members, they seem to be lost in a wake that they themselves created.

Jackson Maxwell can be reached at jlmaxwell@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @JMaxwell82.

[liveblog]

Leave A Comment