Music

Thievery Corporation: Radio Retaliation

This album, Thievery Corporation's fifth, is equal parts revolution and tradition. But it's unfortunately weighed down by too much of the same downtempo sounds we have all heard before.


Thievery Corporation

Radio Retaliation

Amazon: Http:// www.amazon.com/Radio-Retaliation-Thievery-Corporation/dp/B001DDBD72
Contributors: Sleepy Wonder, Seu Jorge, Femi Kuti
Label: Eighteenth Street
US Release Date: 2008-09-23
UK Release Date: 2008-09-22
Website
Amazon
iTunes

With November 4, 2008 creeping closer and closer, it’s inevitable that political pundits and commercials will run rampant on each and every broadcast medium. When you turn on the TV, the mudslinging advertisements are everywhere. If you decide to take a date to the movies, the politic-heavy films are all over the screens. And then there are all the albums coming out that have politics worked into at least one song, if not the entire disc. Even a rapper like Ludacris, an otherwise straight-up shit-talker, has made his thoughts known on the troubles of society and the upcoming election.

But, to be fair, none of this is new or radically different from past years. Musicians have always waxed poetic about which politician they prefer or how the world is being torn to pieces by war. And at this point, particularly after eight years with one of the worst presidents in history, anti-establishment music has become the norm.

So how can an artist justify releasing an album this late into Dubya’s reign without sounding like a bandwagon hater? Well, for Thievery Corporation, a staple of the American downtempo scene, they went across the globe while touching on the problems at home. Also, they took some chances on Radio Retaliation, their fifth album, to show they aren’t satisfied with just pumping out their traditional cuts. But what keeps this record from truly being revolutionary is that it tends to rely too much on their tried-and-true style. And what’s left is an unbalanced collection of tracks that is cohesive but, in the end, too safe.

We all know what these two guys from Washington D.C. are capable of creating at this point. “Lebanese Blond” still stands as one of the best and catchiest downtempo tracks in recent history. But when you are five albums in, it’s time for some progression. As trivial as comparisons are, look at what Portishead did. Sure, Dummy and Portishead sounded like sister-records. The group took time, though, to hone and develop a new sound for Third, which is easily in the top 10 albums released this year. Even though comparing Thievery Corporation to Portishead is an obvious stretch, it still works as a means to show how artists can evolve and remain relevant.

But that's not to say Thievery Corporation's Rob Garza and Eric Hilton are no longer relevant. They just haven't done as much to switch up their style since dropping Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi in 1997. While it's true that the duo has enlisted a variety of artists while tapping into different genres, their core sound has remained. On certain tracks, though, that's not necessarily a negative. For example, Radio Retaliation's "Mandala", which features an excellent sitar performance by Anushka Shankar, is a typical but outstanding Thievery Corporation song. And Garza and Hilton really throw everything they can into it, especially at the end with the horns and percussion. Similarly, "Vampires" and "Hare Krisna" are effective blends of traditional Thievery Corporation with guest artists Femi Kuti and Seu Jorge, respectfully, who both contribute some excellent and stirring vocals. But as the album continues, those strong efforts in the beginning are overshadowed by cuts like "33 Degree" and "La Femme Parallel" that share too many familiarities with previous TC efforts.

Luckily for Garza and Hilton, they succeed when taking slight risks. The title-track and "Sound the Alarm" illustrate that point by being more dub-heavy and sonically diverse. Sleepy Wonder sings on both tracks and provides a dancehall feel, especially on "Radio Retaliation". Another standout is the Chuck Brown feature "The Numbers Game". The track plays like bluesy trip-hop for outer space. And Brown's vocals work extremely well over the jazzy horns and psychedelic guitar. Similarly, "The Shining Path" is another spacey, bass-driven, guitar-wash-laden track. But this time, the music speaks for itself. And then there is "Sweet Tides", which has LouLou providing heavenly vocals. It's a strange amalgamation of styles, as it sounds like a Top 40 contemporary ballad fused with downtempo. But it works, even though the lyrics are a little cheesy. The drums are fantastic and take the song to another level two-thirds of the way through, when they smash and bang like a John Bonham tantrum.

By the time "Sweet Tides" trickles out of your speakers or headphones, a few things become clear about Radio Retaliation. First, this album is equal parts revolution and tradition. Some tracks are obviously head and shoulders above the rest in that they are different and, more importantly, damn good. But then you have the songs that fall in line with Thievery Corporation's earlier work. And no matter how solid those cuts are, they sound repetitive and tired at this point. Although Garza and Hilton have still created a cohesive and enjoyable listen, Radio Retaliation could have used some more variety.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image