Dance-punk has always been a genre high on potential but short on talent. !!! generated a lot of excitement with their “Me and Giuliani Down By the Schoolyard” single, but their full-length failed to make an impact, and the Rapture, for all their hype, left as many people irritated as impressed. Beyond that, the genre has failed to make any real impact. Brooklyn’s Radio 4 had the potential though.
With their last LP, Gotham! their dance-party-by-way-of-political-rally sound had been a perfect response to 9/11, even if the band had recorded it before the attacks occurred. But with song titles like “Our Town”, and “Save Our City” Radio 4 benefited from the same coincidental thematic similarities as Ryan Adams and U2. And it helped that they had a killer single, “Dance to the Underground”. So with the forthcoming release of a new Radio 4 album titled, Stealing of a Nation, it was assumed that the band would unleash a political masterwork. A dance-ready paella of politics, culture wars and genre defining agit-punk. How one wishes that were the case.
Taking their cues from Primal Scream, The Clash, and New Order, Radio 4 fall disappointingly short of anything substantive here, as singer Anthony Roman takes no defined stands, musically or lyrically. It doesn’t help that the songs seem to have been polished and worked over until any hint of swagger and soul has been rubbed away. It’s a shame too, because it seems there was once a lot to build on. Stealing of a Nation has some nice melodies, driving rhythms, hooky choruses, and fuzzy explosive guitar, but the sameness of the beats, the laziness of the lyrics, and Max Heyes’ (Doves, Primal Scream) clipped, staccato production are enough to do the album in.
The biggest disadvantage of Stealing of a Nation though is Roman’s lyrics. A political album with poor lyrics is a failure before the music even starts. Take “Nation”, the album’s defining moment, where the most pointed lyric consists of, “Get the votes / Come fall they’ll change every single quote.” Nothing wrong with it, but that’s pretty much all you’re going to get. The rest of the song consists of vague, non-platitudes like, “Events unfolded / Set the stage / We know they have us / in every way.” And it’s not just the political songs where Roman stumbles. Take “Death of American Radio”, its very name is more of a statement than anything Roman conjures up to support it. Roman ends the song with the line, “Deregulation it don’t sit right”, and that’s his message. The last line of the song delivers Roman’s argument and he apparently has nothing else to say on the matter. Don’t believe me? The song’s opening verse is, “This is how it’s going to be / We’ve had enough for a long time / So what’s it going to be / Someone that’s free from a list of crimes.” Verses like that are alright for more verbosely political songwriters like Bob Dylan, Peter Garret, or Billy Bragg, but with Roman you just don’t get enough meat. In “No Reaction”, for instance, Radio 4 has run through all the song’s lyrics with over four minutes left in the track, the rest of the tune settling for repetition and loops.
Stealing of a Nation is an album that you can really enjoy when you don’t expect much out of it. It’s genuinely danceable, and tracks like “Absolute Affirmation” and “Transmission” have a lot of energy and spunk, but don’t expect much more than what you get on the surface. For all their potential, and all their bating, Radio 4 just doesn’t have a whole lot to say. If it’s a musical anecdote to November 2nd you’re after, you’d be better served looking elsewhere.