Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. This time we’re checking out the new album from veteran post-punk legends Gang Of Four.
There’s a certain set of long-running groups who find themselves in a curious position as of the late 2010s. Although highly influential and reverentially cited by many a younger act, these groups remain resolutely cult. Gang Of Four, it seems, are one such act. You can throw the likes of Killing Joke and Public Image Limited in there while you’re at it. Despite having a debut LP celebrating its fourth decade this year, Gang Of Four’s new long player ‘Happy Now’ is actually only their 11th studio album – a relatively slight number compared with many of their contemporaries. Even a cursory listen to the record reveals just how far the group have travelled in their time; compare it to their debut and it becomes abundantly clear how much they’ve changed. That’s no bad thing, of course – and nor is it really any surprise. After all – of the band’s original lineup, only mastermind Andy Gill remains. ‘Happy Now’ is an album resolutely fixated on the future, not the past. Considering that Trump gets his mug plastered on the album cover and Ivanka has a song named after her, it’s clear that with ‘Happy Now’ the band are more interested in digging into the guts of current affairs than looking back to the past with dewy-eyed nostalgia. For that alone, the album deserves praise. Too many groups lose their sense of focus and determination long before they reach the four-decade mark, but it’s clear that hasn’t happened here. At times the album is perhaps a little too on the nose but, then again, that seems strangely fitting in a time when subtlety is dying a slow death. ‘Happy Now’ is a record where modern concerns come to a head against a backdrop of dance-punk industrial mayhem. Sonically, the record feels contemporary but yet also aware of its own past, as if Gill has taken a long hard look at the plentiful bands he’s had an influence upon and then gone on to fold their own interpretations of his work back into the Gang Of Four sound. It’s ultimately paid off well, even if the end results are occasionally messy. Although not a record likely to have the kind of impact that their classic work bore, ‘Happy Now’ certainly proves its worth in a confusing age.
The vinyl edition of ‘Happy Now’ has been handled by MPO – one of the major European pressing plants. Their output can generally be relied upon to sound great; we’ve featured pressings of theirs in previous Vinyl Corner features and we’ve almost always been impressed. We have, however, heard some titles from them that fall below expectations and initial signs for the quality of ‘Happy Now’ were not wholly promising. Both sides of the LP bear a number of surface marks and blemishes, most likely the result of dirty stampers on the production line. While this is aesthetically unappealing, fortunately the sound remains unaffected and, in actuality, this is another great sounding release from MPO. As you’d expect from Gang Of Four, ‘Happy Now’ is an energetic, lively set of songs so the music is loud enough to mask potential minor imperfections anyway. Even during the one or two moments where the volume is taken down, however, sound remains really clean on this pressing. We didn’t encounter any issues with pops, clicks or crackling and the noise floor is minimal here, with only a little distant rumble audible during the run-ins and silences between songs. Pressed onto black vinyl, the disc is – by our best guesstimate – somewhere around the 140 gram mark. Our copy of the album sits flat on the platter during playback and the audio itself is impressive throughout. It’s a pretty typical-length single LP, with sides clocking in at a comfortable middle ground between brevity and length. Although not fleeting, the album is short enough to fit on a single disc without an issue, meaning that volume remains reasonable and inner-groove distortion is avoided. All in all, this is a really solid pressing from an auditory perspective, even if more care could have been taken with the aesthetics of the disc.
‘Happy Now’s cover art – as striking and stark as it is strange – certainly gives an early indicator that this may well be an attractively presented release. Although the cover itself is a fairly standard non-gatefold affair produced from typical medium-gauge cardstock it still looks nice, with an assertive art direction rendered well through sharp print quality and bright colours. The biggest boon to the presentation of the album comes once the shrinkwrap has been removed and the inner sleeve has been freed. It’s a really nice quality heavy cardstock lyric inner that provides words to the entire album. It’s not often we come across an inner sleeve quite so well produced; plenty of albums include printed inner sleeves, of course, but few produce them out of such high quality cardstock. It’s a big plus to the presentation – and safe removal of the record is also easy here, which certainly isn’t the case with lighter gauge, less ridged inner sleeves. The inclusion of the lyrics is also fortunate as they’re certainly an integral part of the album experience. The label designs are nothing particularly special, but neither are they unattractive. This is an almost surprisingly well presented album considering the moderate price point.
This is a really solid vinyl release, in regards to both sound and presentation. MPO can generally be relied upon to produce a great sounding record and although their visual quality control standards do seem to be slipping, the quality of the audio on their releases remains as strong now as it’s ever been. The presentation goes above and beyond here, with an unusually high quality printed inner sleeve. The music, meanwhile, is an interesting progression that moves the group onwards artistically without losing touch of what made the group so vital to begin with.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!