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Gang of Four's Entertainment!
Following hard on the explosion of British punk, in 1979 Gang of Four produced post-punk's smartest record, Entertainment! For the first time, a band wedded punk's angry energy to funk's propulsive beats-and used that music to put across lyrics that brought a heady mixture of Marxist theory and situationism to exposing the cultural politics of everyday life.
But for an American college student from the suburbs-and, one expects, for many, many others, including British youth-Jon King's and Andy Gill's mumbled lyrics were often all but unintelligible. Political rock `n' roll is always something of an oxymoron: rock audiences by and large don't tune in to be lectured to. But what can it mean that a band that made pop songs as political theory actively resisted making that theory legible?
Coming to terms with the impact of Entertainment! requires us to take the mondegreen-the misunderstood lyric-seriously. The old joke has it that the title of R.E.M.'s debut album should have been not Murmur, but Mumble: true, so far as it goes. But that's the title, too, of rock `n' roll's Greatest Hits compilation-and that strategic inarticulateness itself, which creates such an important role for the listener, has an important politics.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
Kevin Dettmar, having been an American college student in the '70s, is-in an odd way-the ideal author to write the 33 1/3 series volume #91 about British post-punk band Gang of Four's album Entertainment! (1979). In addition to being well-versed to discuss the cultural and musical implications of such a band steeped in leftist and "Situationist" political theory, in the book's introduction, he also proclaims the band to be his "favorite of all time." This is the kind of mixture of knowledge and fervor that has made the series a great addition to the literature about pop music. Dettmar tends to beat us over the head with the Marxism and Situationism in the British band's lyrics and approach, the way their lyrics make sharp social commentary in counterpoint to their equally jagged yet seductive dance rhythms. It's a bit of a stretch, the case he makes for each of the songs as a "think piece," but it may help the casual listener to give the band another spin to listen for what is hidden subversively in their sound. * SLUG Magazine * There are not many great Marxist/feminist rock bands, but Gang of Four have a strong claim of being among them. Entertainment was their first album, released in 1979, is innovative both musically and with its lyrics; it was a time of many great albums ... Kevin Dettmar aims to address the power of the Gang of Four in his short book on their album Entertainment ... The text refers to many different figures and ideas, including Emerson, Don Delillo, James Joyce and Engels. Mostly, his approach is plausible and clever, although he is occasionally eccentric ... this book is worthwhile. -- Christian Perring, Dowling College, USA * Metapsychology Online Reviews 19:8 * Words are at the very heart of Kevin Dettmar's affectionate retrospective of the Leeds quartet's first and best-known album, 1979's Entertainment! - not only because Dettmar is a professor of English but because Gang of Four's debut is a veritable treasure trove of punning, word play and semantic dissonance. -- Houman Barekat * The Quietus *