You can count on the Gang of Four to provide fervent left-thinking rhetoric and kinetic rhythms, and Songs of the Free has a full quotient of both.
On their third album, the Gang attacks nostalgia (“It Is Not Enough”), macho militarism (“I Love a Man in a Uniform”) and the consumer mentality (“Call Me Up”), coining a few good slogans in the process, like “Save me from the people who would save me from myself” in “Muscle for Brains.” Guided by new producer Mike Howlett (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark), the group has extended its basic sound toward what might be construed as pop. The songs use longer, marginally more tuneful vocal lines, sometimes answered by multitracked choruses sung by new bassist Sara Lee, while vocals and instruments are separated and reverbed in a mix that makes Entertainment! and Solid Gold seem two-dimensional by comparison. There’s even a ballad, “Of the Instant,” in which the Gang tries to reconcile sex and politics.
Yet Songs of the Free is by no means a pop sellout. The more elaborate production gives guitarist Andy Gill and the rest of the Gang a chance to run amok in the studio, overdubbing extra percussion and screeching, careening guitars. Spotlighting the vocals does reveal the Gang’s limited stock of melodies — “I Love a Man in a Uniform” is too close to Solid Gold‘s “He’d Send in the Army” — but given their rhythmic drive, that’s a minor flaw. For the Gang of Four, the fancy sound on Songs of the Free is simply gilding the dynamo.