Happy Now by Gang of Four
The show at Milwaukee’s Shank Hall began with a bang, literally, as Andy Gill, guitarist and leader of post-punk legends Gang of Four, started the night by turning up his amp and tossing his guitar to the floor. That the night ended with a smashed microwave oven may indicate an angry, destructive streak to the band, but in talking with Andy after his February show, a careful and thoughtful person was all I saw. Exhausted after the night’s performance and coming down with a chest infection that ended up cancelling their last U.S. gig, Andy’s energy picked up with talk about the new album and the new surge of creativity it represented.
Building from the patchwork lyrics gathered from months of scribbles and notes, Andy begins his days early, mulling over prospective songs with a cup of tea, puzzling out the bits and pieces he has filed away so by mid-morning people can join in to flesh out ideas, suggest options and refine rough drafts. Andy credits his co-producers and co-writers for his renewed sense of productivity. The process has born remarkable fruit, in fact enough solid material for two full-length records.
The group’s tenth studio album, “Happy Now,” crawls, coils and cradles, a steel-gauge rage wrapped in grizzled grooves pock-marked with provocative knots and grinding, thin-sliced cycles. Ever the open ear, Andy talked about rap’s driving, well-curated beats influencing his work, fancying the tough gritty sounds of trap. A musical sponge, Andy seems rejuvenated by today’s digital technological options at his disposal.
A distant cousin from Gang of Four’s savage break-through debut, “Entertainment!” issued forty years ago this year, “Happy,” is a thoroughly modern affair chock full of trippy sounds and Svengali rhythms. Still the primal furor of forty years ago remains intact and was on full display at the show as the band rattled off a ferocious set list with two new songs, “Toreador,” and, “Lucky,” tucked among the classics.
Talking to Andy about the album I was curious about the title. Was it, “Happy Now,” “Happy Now!” or, “Happy Now?” While Andy admitted there was a bit, “you get what you ask for and deserve no less,” he says it’s an open-ended message; citing religion, the health and fitness industries and today’s general tendency towards socially mediated self-interest that drew him to the phrase. People seem keen on pursuing happiness these days, Andy says, so busy they miss that happiness is in the present. Ironic perhaps that the same quantum leaps in technology that has spurned Andy’s inspirations are also the basis for the culture-flattening pageantry, “Happy,” rails most potently against; begging the question, are you, Andy Gill, happy now? Reacting with a smug chuckle, Andy thinks most people would say he’s miserable, not directly answering as if he was uncomfortable admitting he’s ever satisfied, but I think, Andy quite possibly will have the last laugh, with a few more tricks still up his sleeve.
Catch, “Happy Now,” arriving on all major formats April 19th via Gillmusic.
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CD: Happy Now Record Label: PledgeMusic