I can forgive Radio 4 for immersing themselves in DFA-like disco production on their 2004 release, Stealing of a Nation. After the success of “Dance to the Underground” and with so many bands going the Gang of Four-lite route, taking a detour seemed the only natural thing to do. It just so happened that the direction they chose wasn’t any less overdone. By no means a bad album, Nation didn’t quite have the spark of earlier albums like Gotham, which had the energy and good songs to propel them to the front of the dancepunk class. For those who missed that Radio 4, the one that rocked rather than bumped, I give you Enemies Like This.
Still surging forward with the political-minded polemics of Nation and Gotham, Radio 4 offer an album that rivals Gotham as their best, mixing Clash-like hybrids of dub and punk with danceable post-punk jams, as one should expect from R4 at this juncture. Something about Enemies seems much more dynamic this time around, however, as, stylistically, most of the familiar sounds are still in place, they just sound a lot better. A little production help from Jagz Kooner (Primal Scream, Kasabian) doesn’t hurt to keep the songs both dirty and danceable, either.
The title track crashes straightforward with razor sharp riffs and a soaring chorus, like an American version of Bloc Party, while “Packing Things Up on the Scene” rolls on a funkier groove, effects-laden piano twinkling above the disco bassline. PJ O’Connell’s conga rhythms drive the super catchy “Too Much To Ask For,” proving that sometimes an extra percussionist isn’t such a bad idea (other best example: Skeleton Key).
“Everything’s In Question” dives into dubby rhythms, though the opening riff really should have stuck around longer, being the best part of the song. This reggae-fueled section stretches on for three songs, as if it were surrounded by a velvet rope and marked with a “chill out area” sign. Arguably, this could have been broken up more for the sake of better sequencing, but the hard-driving “Always A Target” rescues the album from perma-stone, picking up the pace and taking us back to Radio 4’s dancepunk haven. The band saves the proverbial best for last, placing “As Far As The Eye Can See” at the end. Building handclaps, percussion and one of the funkiest basslines this side of “Le Freak,” R4 churns out one hot rollerskating jam.
Enemies might not quite be up to the brilliance of Gotham; the bar was set mighty high. It does, however, find the band in a more comfortable place, balancing the dancier aspects of their sound with their more abrasive side. And thank God they didn’t bury the drums in electronic thump this time around. After all, The Clash didn’t use 303s.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.