What’s this? Yet another hyped band from “Noo” York with an album that, for the first 30 seconds, sounds like it was recorded in a garage-cum-toilet? Except here’s the thing: Radio 4 have about as much in common with The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs et al as Edwina Currie does with a discreet person.
For while the aforementioned bands have overdosed on the likes of The Velvet Underground and The Stooges, Radio 4’s musical time capsule is stationed about 10 years further on and in this country: Gang Of Four, late Clash, early Big Audio Dynamite and Public Image Ltd being the deafeningly obvious reference points.
This is not just another retro record, however. First thirty seconds aside, Gotham! is very much an album with modern production values, courtesy of Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy, whose other credits include UNKLE and recent Primal Scream.
In practical terms, the fusion of all these influences means that Gotham! is what you might term “funk punk played with spunk”. The funk comes from the amazing rhythm section of bassist Anthony Roman (also the vocalist), drummer Greg Collins and percussionist PJ O’Connor. Roman’s bass is always at the fore, while at times Collins and O’Connor sound like they’ve purloined every dustbin lid in Brooklyn to enhance their already mesmerising rhythmic arsenal.
The punk is provided by Tommy Williams’ muscular, jagged guitars, most impressively on opening track Our Town, and Roman’s impassioned vocal delivery. In fact, it is this fervour and belief that injects the spunk into the formula because this is not an album where you’ll find soppy love songs, woe-is-me introspection or even broad-brush statements on the world.
No, Gotham! is a commentary on New York, pre-September 11 and a call-to-arms for residents, where “arms” is defined as social action rather than the American predilection for guns. So we get songs about the need to discuss AIDS more constructively (“Who’d have thought disease could turn out passe?” from Start A Fire), the neglect of the arts (the self-explanatory Save Your City) and ubiquitously, about the injustice of former Mayor Giuliani’s banning of dancing in many of the city’s clubs. Yes, you read that right and yes, it could happen here.
In fact, in many ways, Gotham! is a direct two-fingers up to this state of affairs: every song seems designed to get you dancing, successfully I might add, while the last song is the not exactly subtly-titled New Disco.
Despite their name, you won’t be surprised to learn that Radio 4 are unlikely to be appearing on said radio station in the near future. However, with its visionary melding of dance and rock, its array of rhythms and in-your-face lyrics, Gotham! is impossible not to like, and may just make it into one or two of your Desert Island Discs lists.