10 October 2005

gang of four - "not great men (phones extended version)" (from the limited edition return the gift lp, only available on import, which can be purchased here.)

in brief : paul "phones" epworth returns the gift, teaching indie kids--and old punks--to dance, all over again.

return the gift, if you haven't heard, is a re-recording by the gang of four of their groundbreaking and, particularly today, influential work.


the official reason is that they hated the drum sound; it didn't capture them as they really were live--which carries w/ it the faint suggestion that you should see them live ... or, failing that, buy this album.

it's not an unusual move: in the 80's, i remember a whole host of artists re-recording their music and then advertising it on tv as their "greatest hits." usually these artists either have a tortuous recording history and, due to licensing problems, couldn't bring together all of their hits; other times, they were artists who didn't own the rights to their original performances, like prince's 1999: the new master or the commodores, whose lionel richie-less "greatest hits" i mistakenly bought as a dumb kid (and whose lionel richie-plus greatest hits i quite intentionally purchased as an informed adult.)

jazz artists frequently re-record their works, whether standards or original compositions. usually, the most recent recordings act as a signpost for where they're at artistically at the moment. james brown has done this; to a lesser extent--and i mean that in all ways, bon jovi has as well.

artists might also want to update not their sound, but the sound of the records: kraftwerk re-recorded w/ the mix to take advantage of newer technology (and one might argue they did the same w/ minimum-maximum).

in recent times, too, it's been going on. n.e.r.d. and fiona apple re-recorded entire albums w/in the last few years; the go! team thought they might have to. so the gang of four find themselves part of a larger contemporary movement, just as their sound has formed the basis for a larger contemporary movement. what does it sound like, then? well, the drums have more thwap! to them, but elsewhere they--the band that is-- seem a little stiffer and, dare i say it, discophobic. indeed, were bands to follow the blueprint of return the gift, they might be a little less dancefloor friendly.

does one, then, accept the official reason behind it? are there other arguments to be made? perhaps, i'd answer to both. a quick glance at the tracklist reveals no tracks recorded after 1982, aka before the fall. again, official reasoning behind this is that those were the only records the original gang played on. they were also, you know, the records that were really good from pillar to post. return the gift provides a competitor to their other (readily available) "greatest hits" records, 100 flowers bloom and a brief history of the twentieth-century; what gift doesn't have, though, is later material like "womantown" and "is it love." all of which seems like an attempt by the band to rewrite history--ah, very totalitarian!--and effectively put a period on their career in 1982. are these recordings, as prince had hoped w/ the new master, meant to be definitive, to replace the originals?

dunno. but here's the phones, aka paul epworth, remix of "not great men." happily, epworth remembers that go4 were a great dance band, and if one remembers that epworth was the engineer for lcd soundsystem, the giddily irreverent second half of the mix makes much more sense. this kind of irreverence is unexpected from epworth, the producer of futureheads, maximo park, and bloc party, all of whom take the go4 v. seriously, and would likely hate the synthetic drum sound epworth uses. i would disagree: i think it's best that he questions the go4's authority.

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