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Gang of Four - Return the Gift

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Artist: Gang of Four

Album: Return the Gift

Label: V2

Review date: Oct. 12, 2005

Even if you, like this correspondent, found the Gang Of Four's recent reunion concerts persuasive, this project might make you nervous. It's one thing for the band to get together and play the old songs, quite another to re-record them. Especially when you consider the damage that the men who made Hard or Mall might do to the legacy of the men who recorded Entertainment! and Solid Gold.

The rationale behind Return The Gift, which cherry-picks 14 solid gold hits from the band's early efforts, is that the originals were under-produced. This ignores the fact that the nakedness of performances like the original "Damaged Goods" and "At Home He's A Tourist" has a lot to do with their power. But from the feedback peels that open "To Hell With Poverty" to “We Live As We Dream, Alone’s” thuggish bassline, one thing's for sure – these guys rock much harder than any of the pretenders who have spent the last few years recycling their ideas.

It probably helps that bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham haven't spent the last decade woodshedding; instead of flexing well-practiced instrumental chops, they're playing right at the edge of their abilities, which gives the music a necessary element of desperation. Allen probably benefits the most from modern recording technology, which gives his bass a juggernaut presence it just didn't have on the old records. Burnham's drums sound bigger and more natural than they did in 1979, but remember – this band once named a song "Natural's Not In It." The high end of singer Jon King's range is a little rough, but he still sings with palpable anxiety and steely commitment. Andy Gill, who got this project rolling, is as restrained behind the board as he is intemperate with a guitar in his hand. His tone is a bit fatter, but it still cuts like a torn aluminum girder swinging at the end of a hijacked tower crane.

So yes, they've still got it. But that still begs the question; do you need re-recordings of tunes that changed the face of rock music? Not as badly as you need the originals, that's for sure. But these new versions do the old ones no dishonor, and if you want to give you subwoofer a workout, they'll do it in a way that the old ones won't. There's really no need to return this gift.

By Bill Meyer

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