The Radio Dept don’t make albums often. We don’t get the chance to see them performing live much. So with the Swedish critical darlings in London to showcase their latest, Clinging To A Scheme, it was a rare opportunity to experience them in person and see how they would transpose their dreamy pop to the stage.
As the four of them take up their positions in an unusual all-in-a-row formation at the front of the stage, their differing builds, shapes and sizes make for a fairly strange sight. From left to right, there’s the moustachioed keyboard player, frontman Johan’s skinny frame, then the tiny guitar-wielding, drum-bashing one and finally the burly bass player. They don’t look like your typical pop band.
Yet the new album boldly makes efforts to move them away from the ambiguous charms of their previous output and towards a clearer commercial sound while retaining their distinctive woozy shoegaze style. They might just be turning into a pop band.
The songs they play dip into their whole back catalogue. We get the lovely 1995, lifted from debut Lesser Matters and possibly their most well-received single, The Worst Taste In Music from follow up Pet Grief.
Freddy And The Trojan Horse, the lead track from an EP released between albums, demonstrates that they owe a strong debt to Joy Division and New Order. There’s some serious Peter Hook-style bass twanging, and some twinkly keyboard synth sounds that Gillian Gilbert would have pulled off with aplomb.
The music’s atmospheric nature means that at times the songs are familiar, but can’t quite be placed. Their output has historically had a definite sound to it, partly because the songs can sound similar and partly because they’ve produced a coherent three albums worth of work. But the tracks taken from Clinging To A Scheme jolt with their strong melodies. The Saint Etienne-like swing of Never Follow Suit, which requires the double drumming of both programming and some physical bashing, and the upbeat gem Heaven’s On Fire, are blissful injections of pace and addictive optimistic sounds hiding altogether darker lyrics. The words are hard to hear, with the vocals at times being so quiet so as to be barely audible. But that’s part of the ambience. It’s forgivable.
The songs are performed well and the band comes across as a lovely bunch, yet somehow the gig doesn’t quite reach the woozy heights that their albums suggest. Perhaps it’s the venue, which tonight is not quite atmospheric enough. It means that it’s not the magical gig that it could have been. But they do little wrong, and it’s a lovely hour of listening to music to sway to. And music to sway to doesn’t get much better than this.