When dance-punk is truly populist, we get "Heart of Glass" and "Train in Vain"—songs that, though rife with lyrical bitterness, keep a kind eye turned toward the dance floor. When the genre aims toward anti-pop pseudo-sociopolitical "importance," however, it too often seethes with an arrogant undercurrent. Turning the beat into a cudgel, it transforms the 4/4 into a joyless plod—a didactic example of how aesthetically oppressive the 4/4 itself is supposed to be—and posits that dancing is just an exercise in consumerist torpor. Earlier this year, Radio 4 frontman Anthony Roman was quoted muttering the old rockist lament, "So much of dance music kinda doesn't have lyrics, and if it does, it doesn't really say anything." So, promising "jagged music for jagged times," the New York band crammed their second album, Stealing of a Nation (Astralwerks) with constant reminders that the Kids of America are, y'know, fucked.
They use plenty of worn-out platitudes to say it, too. "State of Alert" reduces the U.S.'s paranoid terror-fear to a bumper sticker lament: "Hear the sirens/ Everything has suddenly changed/Can't feel normal/Everyone is looking so strange." "No Reaction" attempts to combat corporate corruption with vague metaphors and shrugging condemnation: "Executives wear party hats/But on their faces they have fallen flat." (Why can't I escape the mental picture of The Young Ones' Rick miming these lyrics on Top of the Pops? Or, for that matter, writing them?) "Party Crashers" is where Radio 4 tip their hand, though. For the leadoff single from a decidedly political album, why would they choose a defensive anti-poseur anthem? That's about as potent a gesture as burning a trucker hat—albeit environmentally safer.
Radio 4's casually grumpy attitude bleeds over into the album's sonic aspect as well. Some have wrongly called Max Heyes an overproducer, but here, his clean-up job gives the guitars towering resonance over invigorating meth-pulse synths and beats that beg for subwoofers the size of monster-truck tires. His production is the only thing that keeps Radio 4's go-nowhere Gang of Four churn and their wobbly sub-PiL dub from sounding like foot-dragging redundancies. Lyrically and musically, the album's tone of entropy does more to underscore the miasma of dread most people feel under the current political conditions than it does to rebel significantly against it. I'm still waiting for that "really say anything" part. When's the new Daft Punk out?