Review by Shannon Shumaker
Normally, I try not to compare a band’s new material to their old work when listening to it for the first time. It’s hard, however, not to notice the difference when a band parts ways with an influential member, and in this case, Gang Of Four has definitely changed with the departure of their old vocalist and co-founder, Jon King. What Happens Next undeniably steps away from Gang Of Four’s old material. Replacing grungy, biting, punk vocals and hard-hitting guitar work are thick bass tones, a mellow vibe and an electronic airiness in Gang Of Four’s ninth LP.
Right off the bat, What Happens Next feels much darker than any other Gang Of Four releases. While “Where The Nightingale Sings” isn’t necessarily an explosive or monumental opening track, it is very bass heavy and busy, setting the tone for much of the album. The following track, “Broken Talk” is easily one of the best songs on the album with a really strong opening guitar hook, catchy bass lines and danceable melodies over an industrial sounding backdrop. Regardless of the change in sound What Happens Next absolutely does have a high point in “Broken talk,” as musically, Gang Of Four stick to their roots with this song. Overall, however, What Happens Next is definitely a rebirth of sorts for Gang Of Four. The problem is, it may not exactly be the rebirth that some fans were hoping for.
Standing on its own, however, What Happens Next is definitely strong in its own aspects. There’s an eerie airy and electric quality about this record that is refreshing and welcome, even if it doesn’t sound like their old material. If fans can look past that change and take this album for what it is, they’ll easily find some songs worth bobbing their heads along to. Even the more mellow tracks like “The Dying Rays” are a welcome change. The empty sound in this track actually makes it much stronger than some of the fuller (and sometimes too busy) tracks on the album. “The Dying Rays” is simple, but not dumbed down to the point where you’ll get bored of it. On the other side of the spectrum, the following song “Obey The Ghost” has a lot going on, but not too much that it’s overwhelming, which can definitely happen to some of the songs on this album. The song starts off similar to “The Dying Rays,” quiet and airy, but then the bass heavy electronics come in and catch you off guard, only to mellow out again about halfway through the song before picking up again.
With strong tracks come weak ones, however, and some of the songs on What Happens Next can definitely get a little bland in the middle, making them hard to stick through. “Isle Of Dogs,” and the jammy, “England’s In My Bones” are good examples of this. Of course, there are songs that still have a bit of aggression and punch that Gang Of Four is known for, which make “Broken Talk” and “Obey The Ghost” two of the strongest songs on the album.
The question isn’t necessarily what happens next, but rather if fans will be able to take this album at face value. Standing alone, What Happens Next absolutely has some weaknesses, but it also has some undeniably great aspects and strengths that can’t be found in Gang Of Four’s old material. The strong bass tones and dancy melodies coupled with a lingering grunginess make Gang Of Fours What Happens Next worth the listen, if nothing else.
Listen to "Broken Talk"