Gang Of Four: New 'Content,' Same Classic Sound Content is Gang of Four's first studio record in 16 years. Within its first moments, the classic sound of angular but danceable post-punk is instantly recognizable. Singer Jon King says it's a privilege to have "inspired other musicians to make great music."
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Gang Of Four: New 'Content,' Same Classic Sound

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Gang Of Four: New 'Content,' Same Classic Sound

Gang Of Four: New 'Content,' Same Classic Sound

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(Soundbite of song, "Not Great Men")

GUY RAZ, host:

The British band Gang of Four gave expression to a tumultuous period in Great Britain, a time in the late '70s and early '80s when high unemployment and the unraveling of the welfare state would usher in the rise of Margaret Thatcher and her free market revolution.

(Soundbite of song, "Not Great Men")

GANG OF FOUR: (Singing) It's not made by great men. It's not made by great men. It's not made by great men. It's not made by great men.

RAZ: Punk rock, glam rock, they were on the way out, and political rock and roll was on the way in. Gang of Four never became a huge commercial success, but many bands today consider the group one of the most influential rock acts. More than three decades since they first burst onto the scene, Gang of Four, led by front man Jon King, is back with a record that sounds as urgent and fresh as ever.

(Soundbite of music )

GANG OF FOUR: (Singing) (Unintelligible). She said he's beautiful and (unintelligible)...

RAZ: And Jon King is in our studios in London. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JON KING (Vocalist, Gang of Four): Hi, there.

RAZ: What can I say? Welcome back. I mean, this is your first studio record in 16 years. And wow - I mean, there is no mistaking, right off the bat with this first track, this is a Gang of Four album. Can you tell me what this record is about?

Mr. KING: When Andy and I started writing the songs that ended up on the...

RAZ: This is Andy Gill, your guitarist.

Mr. KING: Andy Gill, yeah. We had, a few years ago, been enticed back into playing some of the old classics, and we toured those songs for a while. And it was almost inevitable that we would start kicking around new ideas because I'm like most musicians - I get bored quite quickly.

RAZ: So you were kind of looking to kind of update your classic sound from the late '70s and early '80s.

Mr. KING: Well, I wouldn't say update it so much. It's just that that's the sound that we have developed for ourselves. And I think once you've got something which you think is yours and that you own, you're so naturally, I suppose, likely to go into those same territories.

(Soundbite of song, "You'll Never Pay for the Farm")

RAZ: Jon King, your music has always been lauded for its sharp social commentary. And there's some of that on this record - a lot of that on this record - and particularly in the song "You'll Never Pay for the Farm."

(Soundbite of song, "You'll Never Pay for the Farm")

GANG OF FOUR: (Singing) You'll never pay for the farm. Someone should break the alarm. I think you're losing your charm. You cannot do all the harm...

Mr. KING: "You'll Never Pay for the Farm" was the first track that we'd written. This is about two years old, this song. There had been the catastrophic collapse in the financial world, caused by these gambling criminals who've made gigantic profits from other people's misery and expected us all to fund their gambling. And this is one of those songs where you've got an element of reverse engineering about it - because the line "you'll never pay for the farm" was something I thought was interesting.

And soldiers in combat since the Second World War have often used the phrase, when someone got killed: He bought the farm. And what we all struggle to do as we go along with our lives is to pay for the farm. You know, it's one of those phrases, you know, that you - once you pay for the farm, you can then pay for your other luxuries, or whatever.

And of course, the irony since the collapse of finance is that we're all -spend the whole time on this drudging treadmill to pay for the farm, but any time you'll get to pay for the farm is when you've bought the farm.

(Soundbite of song, "You'll Never Pay for the Farm")

GANG OF FOUR: (Singing) You can't regret what you get. You can't get back what you bet. You can't divorce from your faith. You're lying drunk and awake...

RAZ: I'm speaking with Jon King. He's one of the founding members of the band Gang of Four. Their new record is called "Content."

Jon King, can I ask you about Gang of Four lyrics going back, going way back?

Mr. KING: Yup.

RAZ: So many of your lyrics have been parsed over for years. I mean, there's the track "Return the Gift." You sing:

(Soundbite of song, "Return the Gift")

GANG OF FOUR: (Singing) Please send me evenings and weekends.

RAZ: There's a line from the song "Anthrax."

(Soundbite of song, "Anthrax")

GANG OF FOUR: (Singing) And I feel like a beetle on its back. And there's no way for me to get up.

RAZ: And on "Natural's Not in It," you sang...

(Soundbite of song, "Natural's Not in It")

GANG OF FOUR: (Singing) The problem of leisure, what to do for pleasure.

RAZ: These lines mean different things to different people. And when you read people who write about Gang of Four, and about your music as a reaction to Thatcherism(ph) - or sort of the early '80s Britain, with its high unemployment and the unraveling of the unions - does that make sense to you? Do you think yeah, that's exactly what we were trying to capture?

Mr. KING: Well, I'm not sure. I mean, the things that I was interested in - I remember when I was 15, I got incredibly excited when I found some grubby, old book in a secondhand bookshop, about the revolution in Paris in 1968. There was a picture, which I still cherish - it was a photograph of, I think, for some kind of perfume, and a very glamorous-looking woman on this poster. And someone had written on it in French: I know I am exploiting you, but I'm not doing it on purpose.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KING: I got terribly excited by the fact, and using this as a situation that's described as derive concept, where you can change the meaning of things by the label. And that predated Thatcher's arrival by a few years. And when I was at university, the things that I was very interested in was this approach. And I've wondered how one could play around with some of these sorts of ideas in music.

That said, there is no better time to be a musician - when you have a reactionary and oppressive government who are trying to grind the faces of the poor and the underprivileged into the dirt, like we have at the moment in our country.

RAZ: A lot of bands, as you know, have pointed to Gang of Four as a major influence - REM, Nirvana, the Killers. And I want to play a sample of some of the bands that say that they have been inspired by your sound. Take a listen to this.

(Soundbites of songs from various artists)

RAZ: And that last band is Bloc Party. We heard from Franz Ferdinand, the Futureheads, and a few other bands. Pretty amazing, when you hear that. What do you think when you hear a whole bunch of modern bands sounding a lot like Gang of Four from 1979?

Mr. KING: I think it's a great privilege to have somehow or other inspired other musicians to make great music. I think, you know - pompously comparing ourselves to Led Zeppelin. But I mean, Led Zeppelin probably feel the same - that the infinitely varied use of the drum intro to "Black Dog" by every hip-hop band in history. It must be quite fun to think that you - there was something there that was so vibrant, and in itself, that it was worth other musicians quoting. And that's a tremendous compliment.

RAZ: When you play shows today, when Gang of Four plays shows today, a huge part of your fan base is made up of people who weren't even born when your first record was released, in 1978. What do you make of that?

Mr. KING: It's marvelous, really. When - five years ago - I was enticed into playing again, the first show that we did, which was at (unintelligible), which sold out quite quickly, went down there on the London Underground with my 15-year-old daughter, who was coming along to the show - who had never seen one of our shows, of course.

And we got off at our bit of the Underground, and of the next two compartments of the train - emptied out, and it was, I don't know, 150 kids all in her year from her school, who came to see me play. And they were all amazed that her dad was this character. And I was very entertained by that. And I think it's because we are an oppositional band. I think people are sick of the commercial bands, the karaoke, actually - see on "American Idol" and "X Factor."

And I've always had the great luxury of never being commercially successful, so we could do what we like.

RAZ: That's Jon King. He's the front man for the legendary band Gang of Four. Their new album is called "Content." If you'd like to hear a few tracks, they're at our website,

Jon King, thank you so much.

Mr. KING: Thank you very much. Bye.

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