Stealing of a Nation
ound the death knell, one and all, for the end is nigh: dance-punk has wheezed its last cemented breath. Yes, pull out those vomit-stank tuxes you never returned and take some Febreze to their pits. Prepare yourself for coming novelties and, by God, remember your gloom-wrinkled face: the great indie movement of the last several years has decided that it, too, must inevitably sell its ideas for rent-money and bare its secrets. Any time one of a genre’s leading purveyors, and after Radio 4 released Gotham! in 2002 they were certainly perched atop that sweaty indie-throb heap, succumbs to such a laundry-list of career-ending pitfalls, the entire stack of cards has a way of tumbling inwards. All hail ceremonial closure because with Radio 4’s latest work, Stealing of a Nation, they’re offering a concise look into the end of an era.
In looking at the major stumbling points of Stealing of a Nation, all of the classic death-rattles are apparent. The first and most pronounced is the production on the album, done by Max Heyes of Doves and Primal Scream note. The material lacks the gauzy groove of Gotham!, replaced by techno-savvy beats and a synthetic sheen so soulless it C3PO’s all of the group’s human swagger. Unlike his work with the Doves, Heyes does away with the thick atmospheric glaze, something that might have covered these songs with enough atmosphere to enliven their superficial gleam. Each instrument, from the tom-tom thrash of the drums to the faux-epic guitar lines, is so crisp it tends to bounce off those around it instead of melding together. When attempting synthetic dub for example, they manage to sound like Lee Perry if he’d blitzkrieged himself with Red-Bull-and-vodkas instead of heavy herb. The results make instrumentation instead of mere enhancement out of the studio, and Radio 4 winds up losing their natural reverb in the process.
Problem number two is the album’s stale sequencing, which mashes the first six songs together without distinction. When you finally arrive at “Nation,” the album’s centerpiece and namesake, you have to check and make sure you haven’t elbowed the repeat button. Pulsing on floor-filling disco beats and guitar lines attempting Colonel Kurtz and settling for Colonel Sanders, any vibrancy in the opener “Party Crashers” is disseminated across six straight tracks of identical jungle-crashing. By the time the blissful “woo woo woos” of “(Give me All of Your) Money” spread their disco-train insistence against the album’s too-steady backdrop, it’s far too late. You’ve spent too much cold-sweat on false anthems, generic beats, and hyperactive production work. Come to think of it, if A Night at the Roxbury were filmed today, I have no doubt any of these tracks could ably soundtrack Kattan and Ferrell’s alpha-male cock-strut.
The last complaint is typically the most forgivable in a genre so dependent on physical escapism, namely the lyrical gaffes aplenty on Stealing of a Nation. Now, Radio 4 has never been one to set your mental libido into overdrive, but on Gotham!, they showed the passion to overcome such lapses. I’m not going to enter the entire art for art’s sake monologue here, but perhaps political acuity is simply not something dance-punk need worry about. When attempting socially-minded activism through music, and the title’s cheeky play on Jacob Miller’s reggae anthem “Healing of a Nation” speaks for itself, ambition need be coupled with vision, and Radio 4 is scratched-cornea blind here. Vacant couplets like “We need a different history / Facilitate this urgency” are at the heart of Radio 4’s political mantras, and they’re too empty to adorn even the bumper of your Honda Civic this fall. Tepid invective is slobbered out with the same indolent sloganeering of the very politicians spurring their dischord. In the end, that’s the album’s most ironic benchmark: it’s starched enough to have emerged from the party supposedly under fire.