Brooklyn’s Radio 4 probably deserves as big a share of the credit (or blame) as any band for getting the post-punk revival bandwagon rolling, thanks to its timing, its name (from the Public Image Ltd. song) and, of course, its sound. On The New Song and Dance, bassist/vocalist Anthony Roman, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Williams and drummer Greg Collins take their cues directly from Gang of Four, delivering political commentary over jagged guitar grooves and tense, funk-influenced (as opposed to funky) rhythms. On “Buy and Sell,” “Get Set to Fall Out” and “Beat Around the Bush” (the chorus of which is a repeated chant of “There’s no entertainment” — ahh, but there is, guys), Radio 4 tries hard to find (and mine) that essence rare. “We Must Be Sure” is a pretty obvious rewrite of “Not Great Men.” “Walls Falling” cribs more than a little bit from “What We All Want.” The band occasionally steps away from its strict Gang mentality: the organ on “Boy Meets Girl” adds a hint of ska over the strident rhythm, while the beats and melodies of “How the Stars Got Crossed,” “Election Day,” “(No More Room For) Communication” and especially “Beautiful Ride” have a more conventional rock and roll feel. The New Song and Dance doesn’t really live up to its title, but it’s well-recorded and entertaining.
The Dance to the Underground EP offers three new songs: “Caroline,” “Sink So Low” and two mixes of the title track (which appeared on the UK release of the next album).
On its second full-length, Radio 4 avoids the predictability of the debut and takes its music to an altogether different place. Where producer Tim O’Heier (Six Finger Satellite, Sebadoh / Folk Implosion, Superdrag, Juliana Hatfield) captured the band with clean, uncluttered sound on its first album, the DFA Records production duo of Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy (the latter of whom also leads LCD Soundsystem) gives Gotham! a sound verging on overload, piling on percussion, keyboards, noise and static. The band performs with furious energy on almost every track, as if fighting to be heard through the layers of distortion. On “Our Town,” the opener, muffled dub bass and sharp high-hat accents usher in colliding rock and funk guitar riffs, as Roman sings about the advances made by his city’s creative scene (“Amazing how it’s come so far / Now it’s so near”). On the political front, where R4 mostly settled for commentary on the debut, “Start a Fire,” “Calling All Enthusiasts” and “Save Your City” are more like calls to action. The lyric of the urgent, conga-enhanced one-chord riff “Struggle” spells out the band’s manifesto: “The ideas of the ruling class / Should not be the ruling ideas / Get behind the struggle right now!” Elsewhere, Roman tells the story of a rich married woman caught at “The Movies” with her lover, and of a youth falling in with the wrong crowd and ending up involved in a murder in “Certain Tragedy.” The moody “Speaking in Codes” offers a little breathing space in the middle of the CD; the dub-flavored instrumental “Pipe Bombs” provides a bit more respite before the pummeling noise assault of the closing track, “New Disco.” Radio 4’s musical influences are still pretty overt on such numbers as “Red Lights,” “Eyes Wide Open” and the Vocoder-accented “End of the Rope,” but that doesn’t diminish the fact that Gotham! is a genuinely exciting album in its own right.
So far, though, it remains the only truly exciting album Radio 4 has been able to push out. With British producer Max Heyes (Doves, Ocean Colour Scene, Primal Scream, Paul Weller), the band’s major-label debut, Stealing of a Nation, has a much cleaner sound and a drastically reduced energy level. The band — now a quintet with the addition of percussionist P.J. O’Connor and keyboardist Gerard Garone — seems to have tired of the Gang of Four comparisons and chosen instead to fixate on New Order and Happy Mondays. In “Party Crashers,” “Reaction,” “(Give Me All Your) Money,” “Fra Type I and II,” “Transmission” (with its salute to “digital recording heroes”) and the downright poppy “Absolute Affirmation,” Radio 4 delivers the funky (rather than just funk-influenced) rhythms, danceable grooves and keyboard-heavy riffs of the previous decade’s Madchester bands. Lyrically, the band steps back to commentary on “Nation,” “State of Alert” and “Shake the Foundation.” By the time the album limps to a close, its last two tracks, “Dismiss the Sound” and “Coming Up Empty,” seem all too aptly titled. (Some copies of the album include a bonus disc of remixes.)
The Electrify EP combines remixes of two Gotham! tracks with five mixes of “Dance to the Underground” (only one of which appeared on the EP of that title).
Working with another British producer, Jagz Kooner (Primal Scream, Manic Street Preachers), Radio 4 shows signs of rejuvenation on Enemies Like This. Songs like “Too Much to Ask For,” “Grass is Greener,” “This is Not a Test” and the title track show the group playing with a lot more vigor than they had on Stealing of a Nation. (“Packing Things Up on the Scene,” however, shows that the group hasn’t dispensed entirely with its Madchester obsessions.) The musicians bring a few different touches to the songs, including reggae rhythms on “Everything’s in Question” and “Ascension Street” (as well as a melodica hook on the latter), hints of the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes on “Grass is Greener” and the title track and a return to its earliest inspiration on “(Always A) Target.” It’s a far cry from Gotham!, but Enemies Like This shows that it’s a bit too early to tune Radio 4 out.