Driving their guitar spangles and jangled lyrics into the new wave morass of the early '80s, Gang of Four
hoped to spin magic one more time with their 1983 swan song. The last studio album the band recorded before it disintegrated in 1984, Hard
came under fire from critics and fans alike, both camps skewering this foray into lighter, more dance-oriented territory, screaming bloody sellouts and death-of-our-heroes up and down the streets, without once stopping to see the album for what it really was. Yes, it's true that, by 1983, the band had abandoned the bite and saliva that drove its once politically fraught lyrics. Yes, it's also true that this album snaked out into smoother-edged waters than previous efforts; that Jon King
and Andy Gill
had grown up a little. But really, after the sexed-up disco of the preceding Songs of the Free's "I Love a Man in Uniform," which proved to be one of 1982's biggest club hits, where exactly did one go next? Hard
, of course. Packed with relatively fluffy dance songs -- "Woman Town," "A Man With a Good Car," and the hyper ballad "Is It Love" -- Gang of Four
were not so much selling out as catering to a new breed of fans who had little time to worry about the desiccation of society but would sure as hell shake their money-makers to songs whose lyrics danced about the periphery. Sellout? Sure. But that really depends on what side of the split you're looking. Hard
lost the band most of its pure-bred fans, but still managed to let plenty more get their ya-yas out to something a little cooler than the pap-driven pop that littered the clubs like brittle bones.