Four years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Radio 4 open for The Dismemberment Plan at The Troubadour. Then, the New York group was a trio, playing Gang of Four-style agit-punk with a slightly dark and political bent. They were fun and rockin’, though they didn’t leave a huge impression on me, other than one song that they played, which sounded almost exactly like Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” The Radio 4 on Stealing of a Nation, the band’s latest, doesn’t appear to be the same group.
Somehow, Radio 4 gradually expanded to five people and morphed into an ass-shaking dance party machine. Sort of. There’s more drum programming and electronics in general, but somewhere, buried underneath all the Rolands and Korgs, there lies the original Radio 4 sound, abrasive, but fun. There’s no denying that the band has been made over and polished up. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Radio 4 sound of Gotham was almost too good to alter, but being the artists that they are, they must have figured that a little change and experimentation doesn’t hurt. And really, it doesn’t.
Leadoff track and first single “Party Crashers” is more Chemical Brothers than Gang of Four, yet somehow it works. It sounds very much like the sort of record Astralwerks was putting out ten years ago, though after the trance-inducing intro, the band’s signature skronky guitar returns during the verse. A faster beat follows in “Transmission,” a near-house track that suffers a bit for its sugary sound, in spite of its political lyrics. “State of Alert” returns to a more recognizable Radio 4 sound, with more prominent guitars and delay pedals. Again, on “FRA Type I & II,” the band seems overly reliant upon electronic devices, though in this case, any offense is forgiven, merely for how well they pull it off, especially during the highly infectious chorus.
Some odd samples begin “The Death of American Radio,” a song that should be played on a modern rock station, despite its lyrics ranting against corporate radio. Not that that ever stopped anyone from playing Costello’s “Radio, Radio.” The next track, “Nation,” is the most Clash-like, falling somewhere between punk and dub and featuring some of the most blatant political lyrics on the album:
“I have grave expectations
For this strange situation
I signed my letter of resignation
For the stealing of a nation”
“No Reaction” returns to the house-flavored pop sound that runs throughout the first half of the album, though the following song, “Absolute Affirmation” seems to have absolutely no drum programming and sounds like The Cure, of all things. It’s one of the simplest, most guitar-centric songs on Nation, which makes it one of the best tracks. “(Give Me All Your) Money” is not a Spinal Tap cover, but a maniacally-paced dance punk track with “woo-woo” hooks and the best use of vocal harmonies on the record. “Shake the Foundation” reverts to a bass heavy dub-like track. Drummer Greg Collins shows off some of his best chops here, which is a shame, considering how little his talents are shown off in other songs. “Dismiss the Sound” is the darkest, most gothic song on the album, bearing a strong resemblance to the band from which Radio 4 took their name, Public Image Limited. It’s easily the best track on the album, displaying more varied textures than the anthemic songs of the first side.
Stealing of a Nation is a good album with plenty of standout moments. Though there are merits to the dancier side of the band, “Transmission” should have been left off and some of the songs on the second half should have been mixed in with the club bangers. But hey, that’s what “random” is for, and the songs on their own don’t suffer. Though continuous exploration into dance music may not be the best idea for Radio 4 in the future, they’ve stumbled into something interesting here and prove that sometimes change can be a good thing.
!!! – Louden Up Now
The Clash – Combat Rock
Chemical Brothers – Surrender
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.