It does not take a genius to figure the title of the latest Gang of Four album is an ironic question rather than a satisfied statement, railing as it does against the current political climate. Not that this should come as a surprise – the band has always been a highly politicised outfit bravely raging against fascism, racism, and bigotry over the last 40 years (their debut album Entertainment! celebrates its 40th anniversary this year).
In that time Gang of Four have provided us with numerous songs of righteous fury and incisive satire. There have been misfires of aimless ranting too though, and the most staunchly political efforts on display here are variable in quality, particularly the efforts that aim to skewer Trump: Alpha Male and Ivanka: ‘My Names On It’. The former may not be scalpel-sharp satire, but at least it’s a catchy track. The latter, however, is a drab dance-rock effort, and the lyrics are no better. Even ardent Trump haters may roll their eyes at lines like “Mr. Putin said to Daddy / Russian prostitutes are the best / Then Daddy walked into a Moscow hotel room / Y’all know the rest.”
Elsewhere, the social commentary does seem more astute, such as on second single Change the Locks, which takes aim at modern surveillance with its paranoid refrain of “they say everyone’s a suspect now.”
So the politics may not have changed, but much else has. Chief songwriter/lead guitarist Andy Gill is now the only remaining original member left following Jon King’s departure in 2011, making this the second Gill-only effort after 2015’s What Happens Next. Moreover, it is not just the line-up that has shifted but the sound too. Last time out Gill moved away from the post-punk sound most associated with the band into industrial rock territory. Also, if anyone expected a return of angular bass riffs and jagged guitar lines they will be sorely disappointed.
Neither is this a repeat of What Happens Next, even if there is a couple of industrial tracks, with both One True Friend and I’m A Liar having more than a hint of Nine Inch Nails about them. No, largely this is an electronic pop dance record with the odd guitar thrown in, which is sure to put off a number of old fans. It’s a shame, as while there are duds, there are winners too such as slinky opener Toreador and synth stomper Paper Thin.
Also, curiously one of the album’s best tracks, White Lies, actually has the most significant departure in sound. The song is a haunting electronica soundscape and very much far removed from what you would expect to hear on a Gang of Four LP.
Happy Now is a mixed bag for sure but a worthwhile one and it is admirable to see Gill’s determination not just to congeal into a mere heritage act.