Underhanded and Blatantby Grant Moser
1. “Do your life justice/it won’t take long”
Radio 4 is underhanded. Stealing of a Nation may be assertive and edgy, but it’s dance rock nonetheless. It may seem like harmless fun on the surface, but after you start letting the infectious beat and melodies start your toe tapping, and the sing-along choruses make you, well, want to sing along, you start realizing what you and the band are singing. This is The Revolution on disc, with rhythm.
Lyrics from song to song start adding up in your mind—“There’s reason to be uncertain,” “Got you holding on/It’s a state of alert again,” “They need you to be uncertain,” “Thanks for all you showed us but you won’t be coming back next time”—until it dawns on you that you’re picturing yourself among a congregation of bodies moving as one in a packed warehouse, and Radio 4 is the preacher.
The music is Depeche Mode and Head on the Door-era Cure melodies over techno music and swirling guitars, with the Prodigy and the Beta Band thrown in for good measure. It’s a beautiful, haunting, moving cacophony meant to inspire your feet and head. This kind of dance rock is an evolution of music that’s been working its way through New York for several years now: rock with a fat beat pushing it along at a breakneck pace, with multiple layers of sound that you want to dance to, rave to, and turn up very, very loud. And let’s not forget Radio 4’s powerful, confident vocals, which sound urban, underground, and dangerous.
“Party Crashers” is cocky and in-your-face. “State of Alert,” with its chorus “There’s reason to be uncertain” (inspiring fear and optimism at once), is the most unlikely sing-along of the year. “FRA Type 1 & 2” teams the sparseness of Madonna’s “Die Another Day” with floating, comforting melodies to make you want to jerk your body. “Nation” has a bass line that dissolves into a dreamy, despair-filled mood à la Depeche Mode’s “Black Celebration,” though Radio 4 somehow makes it hopeful with a subtle melody.
There are no boundaries to Radio 4, who take the idea of dance rock and make it their own, alive and twisting into your ears like an organic thing looking for a brain stem. The wonderful melodies, the changing hooks, the growth within songs, the sing-along choruses, and the fresh approach to what rock can be makes Stealing of a Nation a category-crossing gem that is proud to be stealthy. I don’t normally like dance music. I didn’t even see it coming before Radio 4’s claws were in me.
2. “You’re old enough to know better—you should be old enough”
The Futureheads are another band that likes to play with their music. There is no overarching structure in their songs. Just when you find a rhythm to pick up on, it disappears. In fact, the music stops and turns in mid-riff so often that it feels like someone smacked the musicians across their faces and they had to regroup. Of course, it also demonstrates how incredibly tight this band plays. It’s like they’re telepathic. Psychopathically telepathic, but together.
The Futureheads are a prime example of why the British still hold bragging rights when it comes to punk. Yes, because it’s 2004, technically this album is postpunk, but it’s more similar to the days of yore (referencing the Clash, Wire, the Gang of Four, Television, XTC, and the Jam—sometimes all in the same song) than any of that American crap we’re producing nowadays and calling punk.
The entire album totals maybe 30 minutes—everything comes at you in a flurry. I’m sure there is a method to their madness, but I don’t really care to find it. It’s a lot more fun just to hold on to the bar and keep your eyes wide open. The Futureheads are going balls-out, switching everything inside a song at the drop of a hat, drooling intensity, screaming desperately and searchingly before shifting to a nice melodic stint because that’s what they want to do. Yes, folks, they are out of their minds and having a great time being that way.
The album is rollicking and unexpected. Apart from the wonderful, pulsating, pounding, and flickering songs, they throw in the a cappella “Danger of the Water,” which will make skeptics of punk wonder if maybe these guys actually are talented. They, of course, are. And I have to mention “Carnival Kids,” a grotesquely loud, axe-grinding, and pulse-nuclear explosion of a song that reminds you what punk and energy used to sound like.
The vocals are all over the place all over the album. They are assured and delivered rapidly like bullets, in punk shouts, in repetition, and also in melody combinations that would make barbershop quartets scream like Beatles fans. This music is challenging and rambunctious, existential art rock, and gutter rock and roll. The military drumming and cadence pushes the album throughout, except of course when the Futureheads decide they need to change it all up—fast and with authority, the way punk should be.
Grant Moser is an art writer and frequent contributing writer for the Brooklyn Rail.