Album Reviews

Radio 4 – Stealing Of A Nation

(city slang) UK release date: 13 September 2004

Ironic title considering the continuing trend of American bands selling British music back to us. But hey, here comes the third album from Radio 4. Stealing Of A Nation brings their New York magpie-isms to cast a weary eye over the Bush theft of the 2000 election and the resurrection of the Republican right. Scary times. So what we need then is a scathing political manifesto to inspire insurgents to rise up and overthrow the system right? But can you dance to it? I know, let’s do disco politics! Cheers.

The list of influences is the usual Yank-gazing across the pond at the gloomy majesty of early ’80s UK music scene, spewing up Wire, A Certain Ratio, New Order, Happy Mondays, The Clashand the Gang of Four. Ultimately it is a doomed, unrequited love affair though. As with The Rapture and their ilk, imitation is the greatest form of flattery, this just seems uninspired and hollow.

Recorded without the DFA production team, who brought an organic, edgy live feel to 2002’s Wire-inspired Gotham!, this is largely synthetic fare, characterised by formulaically dull four-to-the-floor disco numbers like Party Crashers and State Of Alert. Produced this time by Max Heyes (Primal Scream, Doves )in a seeming attempt to marry the anarcho-electro-rock of the former with the melodic angst of the latter but comes across as more Duran Duran than The Clash.

Disenfranchised vocals hover, dispensing vague sloganeering against hipster wannabes (Party Crashers) and bullshit terrorism warnings (State of Alert) over limp shapes with all the passion of a Pop Idol. Radio 4 deal out slabs of post-punk, bass-driven rock, percussive breakdowns and thin electronic stylings, to create a strangely asexual, and resolutely unpassionate sound that bears its influences and aspirations large but fails to reach either.

They so desperately wants to be a rockin’ Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore or Joe Strummer but just sounds like an agitated Michael Hutchence with angst in his pants. So, for all the revolutionary promise what do we get but INXS, without the wanking or the mullets.

The few ideas that do intersperse the predictability of the majority of this album, such as the Straight-To-Hell by numbers Western dub of Nation are spacious, thoughtful and don’t get buried under a mish-mash of glib percussive drones like a skeleton in a biscuit tin.

Absolute Affirmation performs a similar trick in raising the game by hitching a ride on the New Order-isms of slapping a hopeful chorus to imposingly gothic verses to good effect, like a cheery Strokes track or, more shockingly, something their own. As a tease, the disco mask is dropped on the final Coming Up Empty, with its pseudo-Casiotone rhythm hiding an unfolding tune of more Western dramatics and wary beauty as it casts a bleary eye over a spacious horizon.

The reliance on the groove does tend to wear thin, verging on anorexicin fact by the end of the album, with any tunes being over-egged with congas, outdated squelching effects and insistently uninspired rhythms until there is nothing but a ghost of the original intention.

If Radio 4 took more time to wander the roads less travelled, as on their more spacious dub-inflected tracks here, or just kept things simple, they may come up with something truly unique. Until then, there is party music. There is political music, there is party political music, but this is nothing. Shame.

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More on Radio 4
Radio 4 + My Luminaries @ Barfly, Birmingham
Radio 4 – Enemies Like These
Radio 4 – Stealing Of A Nation
Radio 4 @ 93 Feet East, London
Radio 4 – Gotham