Sam Blatherwick says there’s at least one precedent for Go4’s Return: “In 1997 Sparks did a tribute album to themselves didnt they?... ummmmm... called plagiarism”. And Matos said it was common in R&B (but then only gives a coupla examples). I'm sure it's actually a routine showbiz thing, because in entertainment/variety, artists--I should say artistes--are known not so much for their recordings as for their songs, which they'd perform here there and everywhere: on TV variety shows, at nightclubs, and so forth. It's not a specific recording of the song that is their signature, but their interpretation, which they're accomplished and professional enough to be able to reproduce at the drop of a top hat, regardless of which band-leader or orchestra they're fronting. So I'd imagine people like Jack Jones or Max Bygraves or Perry Como, upon signing to a new label, might do an album reprising the songs most associated with their names. Which wouldn't bother an MOR audience, because it's all about the Song, the top-line melody (which is what copyright is vested in, in song publishing), and I wonder if
the differences in arrangement, production, recording aura, etc would even be audible to those listeners. In rock, however--and in pop, in all post-Beatles/Spector music perhaps--it's all about the record. (Trevor Horn, or was it Micky Most, used to go on about how they had the song, but they didn't have the record yet). Which is why we get very very attached to the specific aura of a recording--the precise vibe created by the meshing of instrumentation, arrangement, production, studio ambience, perhaps even the mood of that moment in time, as captured forever. Eno has commented on this, that remarkable ability whereby someone raised on rock/pop can identify a song within a second, purely on its sonority and aura, before enough of the melody has unfurled to recognise the tune. It's the timbre of the "band-voice" (Carducci's term). So that's why Return the Gift is a disconcerting listen, these are songs that you've cathected in their original incarnation, and now that element of eroticised haeccity is precisely what's been stripped from the re-recordings. (C.f. how people got livid, understandably, when the first CDs came out, and discovered that often ultra-perfectionist artists (with no 'e') such as Todd Rundgren or Frank Zappa had remixed the music, often adding all-new percussion.)
Which reminds me, those missing Slate-piece paras. Hardly essential, but what else is a blog for, and anyway why shouldn't I join the out-take "bonanza"/second-disc-of-inferior-material-you-deep-down-never-really-wanted retro-culture?
Two reasons why Return’s auto-plagiarism might make sense:
"When I saw Gang of Four perform earlier this year in New York, I was struck by how contemporary the lyrics felt, with their dissections of consumerism, militarism, the psychology of right-wing backlash, and so forth, and how depressing that was as an indice of our society’s advance since the late Seventies. Take “Natural’s Not In It,” a critique of the leisure and entertainment industry’s “coercion of the senses,” a mass-media and advertising barrage of hedonic imagery that causes singer Jon King to protest “this heaven gives me migraine.” The song is even more blisteringly applicable to today’s porno-fied popular culture than it was when the Gang first recorded it in 1979."
"The cycle of pop history has turned, putting Gang of Four in a position to get payback not just for the trademark infringements of today’s Go4-recyclers but earlier bands with heavy debts (the most successful being Red Hot Chili Peppers, who were such fans they hired Gill to produce their 1984 debut album). “Comrades, let us seize the time” is the tongue-in-cheek chorus of “Capital,” and Gang of Four have done exactly that."
and one last grim'n'uncanny irony:
"Return ends with “We Live As We Dream, Alone.” When Gang of Four first recorded it for 1982’s Songs of the Free, the track was a bleak evocation of the privatization of public life in the era of Reagan and Thatcher (who once famously declared “there is no such thing as society”). The ideal of the collective is at the heart of socialism, but it’s is also a big part of being in a rock band: all-for-one and one-for-all camaraderie, unity allied to a sense of purpose and destiny, the shared dream of making it and making history. The original “We Live As We Dream, Alone” can be heard now as a glimpse ahead to the break-up of the gang and the dispersal of its members into solo careerism. Resurrected as the final track of their comeback, the song seems pointedly to pose the question of whether the reunited Gang will stick around to see if they do have anything new to say, musically or lyrically, or whether they’ll simply go their own ways again. "