Ah, Radio 4; stalwarts of the New York underground scene and lieutenants in the recent guitar-led dance movement along with pals The Rapture, !!! and ESG. Their third album after 2002’s Gotham! and 2000’s The New Song And Dance, Stealing of a Nation still rattles with the same inspired political punk-funk that will have pale indie kids shaking their asses like it’s going out of fashion. Taking their name from a PIL song and a British radio station that deals with lengthy monologues about goose farming (although probably the song more), Radio 4 have developed a more tuneful, beat-driven approach to their music: a breath of fresh air when compared to the bleeping, aimless twattery of some of their contemporaries.
Radio 4- Anthony, Tommy, Greg, P.J and Gerard to their Mums- have a lot of obvious influences, as we saw on Gotham!: Gang of Four, Primal Scream, New Order and Television to name but a few. Stealing of a Nation takes all the best bits from these artists and melts them all together: sometimes well, sometimes not. The hipper amongst you beautiful readers might have heard first single and manifesto “Party Crashers” already: taking New Order’s drum machine and some spooky, echoing pianos to create some sleaze truly worthy of the New York underground scene, all bundled up with an anthemic chorus to boot. “Transmission” is about as far removed from the Joy Division song of the same name as it’s possible to be-a poppy chorus, despite the relentlessly dark lyrics. I would describe the juxtaposition of the two elements exhilarating, but I don’t want to sound like a wanker.
”State of Alert” carries on the same kind of marching disco-bass, and in screaming “Sound the Sirens” name checks everyone’s favorite Music and Culture website, but it goes on a little bit too long, causing it to drag unpleasantly. “Fra Type 1 & 2” is as trippy as the title suggests, Cooper Temple Clause style sampling at the beginning and robotic singing sounding more like The Faint than anything else on the album. An extremely hummable melody and some crazy bleeping make this song a hit. “Nation” recalls Fugazi somewhat, and in adding some horns of the type last heard in brothels in France in the 1920’s, and creates a gritty picture of the inside of the Radio 4’s head. “All around us, Politics like cancer” indeed.
“Absolute Affirmation” is the masterpiece of the album: a beginning that mixes “Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins, a fantastic chorus and relentlessly happy singing to create a wonderful musical stew. It stands out shamelessly with the rest of the record, and makes you sit up and listen, like a teacher asking you to repeat what they just said to prove you were listening- a fantastic song, anyway. It is 1991 yet again with “(Give Me All Your) Money” except we’re not at the hacienda, but instead a warehouse rave with the police attempting to batter down the doors. Techno-inspired tunes and tight harmonies about stealing work, oh yes they do. “Dismiss the Sound” sounds a lot like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Pin” drizzled sensually over Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out,” garnished with Blur-style vocals and served with some Felix Da Housecat style bleeping on the side. It’s the best example of what Radio 4 do, and it’s a great song.
It’s a good album, but should you buy it? It’s not to all tastes, and those who bought and liked the Rapture or !!! should like this as well. Those who like their music a little more testosterone-splattered and beer-swilling (I’m looking at Jet here) will hate it. They’ll be the first up against the wall when the Dance-Rock army comes though. Stealing of a Nation is a worthy addition to the NYC underground canon. It’s more the Velvet Underground and their urban hymns to depravity and heroin than The Strokes and their crystal meth-dusted fashionable nights out; and all the better for it. Tune in to Radio 4- you won’t regret it.