'Anti Hero' EP Review: Post-punk legends Gang of Four celebrate the legacy of their iconic guitarist Andy Gill
When Andy Gill passed away earlier this year, the remaining members of the band joined with his widow to release a four-track EP, with proceeds going to Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust
British rockers Gang of Four will release their new EP 'Anti Hero' on July 17, but it comes in the wake of tragic circumstances. In the early days of February this year, the music world lost one of the post-punk movement's greatest figureheads in Andy Gill. As the founder and iconic guitarist of the UK-based outfit Gang of Four since the late '70s, Andy was a beloved and well-respected figure in the music community, hailed as one of the few people around that kept the soul of punk alive.
He was even asked by the then-unknown Red Hot Chili Peppers to produce their debut album, akin to how us mere mortals sometimes ask favors of the gods. Following his last tour with Gang of Four that saw them perform in China last November, Gill spent months under critical care at the Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust in London, where he succumbed to fatal complications after suffering pneumonia and multiple organ failure. It is terrible to think that he may have been among the first few casualties of the coronavirus pandemic, as recent speculative theories on his condition have suggested.
Any loss is bound to test the limits and dynamics of relationships in a band — Led Zeppelin famously broke up after their drummer John Bonham passed away. But when it comes to the brotherly camaraderie and artistic respect that the members of Gang Of Four share, it was only right that they chose to honor their bandmate with more great music.
True to form, Gang of Four's singer John Sterry, bassist Thomas McNeice and drummer Tobias Humble joined hands with Gill's widow, Catherine Mayer, to release a special 4-track EP called 'Anti Hero'. Besides the release being a celebration of Andy Gill's musical legacy, all proceeds from the album will be going to Guy’s and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, the London hospital that did everything they could to save Andy's life. "It was strange, to say the least, to work on a Gang of Four EP without the wisdom and guidance of Andy, but it was nice to feel his presence and influence again," said bassist Thomas McNeice. He was helped in the mixing and production process of 'Anti Hero' by another longtime Gill collaborator, Santi Arribas of the Mixing Factory.
McNeice added, "I like to think that this EP exhibits a progression in Gang of Four while paying tribute to a unique talent that I was extraordinarily lucky to work with." This homage is highly evident on the EP's title 'Anti Hero', a sentiment that reflects Gill's mistrust of contemporary modern-day heroes, whom he believed were not always as righteous as they appeared. "Andy always had a healthy skepticism about celebrity culture and populist politicians," says Catherine Mayer, Gill’s widow, who is more prominently known as the co-founder of the Women's Equality Party. "And he could always spot when someone was blowing smoke."
While this year has been unimaginably hard for Catherine Mayer, the members of Gang of Four and the everlasting legacy of Andy’s music have been a great source of strength. Mayer had co-written quite a few Gang of Four songs in the past alongside Gill and is essentially considered an honorary member. This EP is as much her work as it is the rest of the band's and it stands as a celebration of the life of Andy Gill. The four-track 'Anti Hero' EP comprises two new songs and reworked versions of old fan favorites.
The first track is 'Forever Starts Now', one of the last songs that Gill and current frontman John Sterry worked together on. Sterry explains that the song is about "a character who sees himself as the hero of his own life and manipulates his partner into supporting this fantasy. The line, 'She sings along with his song / She thinks it's like having the radio on...' always brings a wry smile." There's a seamless mix of electro beats and punky-grime with McNeice giving the bass a larger-than-life boost.
Sterry inadvertently wrote the next song to honor his mentor and friend Andy Gill in the incredible send-off, 'Days Turn To Nights'. "I had no intention of it being about him," reveals Sterry. “It just came out that way and also I didn't intend for it to be released. I often cloak lyrics with ambiguity and this felt too raw. But listening now, I'm glad I wrote it with no thought of where it might go - it's just a pure distillation of the years I'd spent with Andy and the band."
This time-honored respect is painfully evident in lyrics like, "I'm a little bit older / A little bit wiser / Cause you taught me how to do it right / Now that it’s done / And the war that is won / I can see that it was worth the fight." Part synth-gilded electro beat, part Western-sunset ending score, this is the ideal way to bid farewell to a musical legend.
The third song on the EP is a rework of 'Change The Locks', from Gang of Four's 2019 album 'Happy Now'. Only fans of the original track would be able to spot the minor changes and subtle flourishes in this rework. The fourth track 'Glass' is another rework from a song from their debut album, 'Entertainment!', that was originally recorded by members who are currently not part of the band. The rework is a lot more audible here, as times and technologies have changed since 1979.
These songs truly are a celebration of Andy Gill and his music. This EP is the bare essentials of the Gang of Four catalogs as each track places the band from different times and musical sensibilities in their decades-long musical journey. "Both [the reworked songs] have incredible resonances for these lockdown times," says John Sterry on the second half of the EP. "His ability to write songs that remain relevant was unparalleled."
Gang of Four released a limited edition 12 inch colored vinyl of ‘Anti Hero’, with cover artwork by the celebrated Shepard Fairey, who is famously known for his iconic Obama 'Hope' and 'Obey' Giant pieces. The cover is a variant of a full-scale portrait of Andy that was created as a loving tribute. The vinyl was first launched to support independent record stores in the UK on 'Love Record Stores Day 2020' on the 20th of June, 2020, and it is now available on the band's website and at leading independent stores via the pre-order option.
The net profits of this EP are being routed to benefit Guy's and St Thomas' Charity, London with even the music distributors, Republic Of Music stating that they would waive their share to maximize the contributions. It is a truly noble gesture to continue a legacy as great as Andy Gill’s by creating the possibilities for health and happiness for others. If you are inclined to contribute too, you can check out their fundraising link by clicking here.