splendid > reviews > 4/10/2002
Radio 4
Radio 4
Gern Blandsten

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Start a Fire"

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Radio 4 are very much of-the-moment, which in the New York underground right now means mining the stuttering thrill of post-punk and the grooving cynicism of no-wave until those wells are dry, dead, useless. It's as though someone decided that the bands from 1978-1982 hadn't gone far enough, and thought it would be cool to work out those elements and themes to their logical ends and extremes. It would be cool if any of these new bands had an original idea to throw into their syntheses of influences and fashion, but few if any of the current crop, of which Radio 4 stand paramount, tread any territory that feels interesting or vital. Radio 4 clearly take their influences seriously, from their name, referencing Gang of Four and P.I.L., to their angled, jittery guitar jangles and dubby basslines. However, as seen with the Strokes and the White Stripes this year, influence, even at its heaviest, is only as important as what you can do with it -- whether you can end up with any real songs. If you can take your heroes, put them in a blender, and come out the other end with fantastic songs that don't pretend to rock on anything but their own terms, well, bully for you -- but if all you do is mash your influences into something resembling a cheap knock-off, you end up with a half-assed, softball album that goes nowhere and adds nothing to the world of music. Such is Radio 4. There are no songs on Gotham! worthy of the Gang of Four comparisons. Radio 4 certainly aspire to the kind of cutting, brutal political and social exposés achieved by their heroes, but they simply can't convert. Lyrically, they're simplistic, jingoistic, and sound like they're pamphleteering to get chicks rather than on behalf of "the struggle". It's a popular kind of candy-assed radicalism in which revolutionary ideas and theories are dulled to cliché by too many beers and bong hits, and not enough time spent in the library. To make matters worse, Radio 4 takes the punch and off-kilter experimentalism that made post-punk unsettling and danceable, and reduces it to obvious hooks with none of the complications of the new wave. They sound like the Police, only sillier. They've watered down the strain and dissonance of the post-punk aesthetic to jangly guitars, propulsive pseudo-disco drum breaks, and bass lines lifted wholesale from everything from Wire to the Cure. "Save Your City" sounds like a sped-up, filtered version of Rod Stewart's "Young Hearts"; "Certain Tragedy" is a facile reading of New York as a police state that makes you wish more of these tracks were instrumentals. Only the dub-inflected excursion of "Pipe Bomb" and the Clash-style raver "Eyes Wide Open" manage to break from boredom and form long enough to feel somewhat genuine -- as long as you don't listen to any of the lyrics.



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