Stealing of a Nation
While indie-rap clothing and feminist sex-toy boutiques alike hawkanti-Bush T-shirts in their windows, protest-minded dance-punkbands-this administration’s answer to 1980s hardcore-should be aiminglyrical flamethrowers at every target in their crosshairs. And giventhe wealth of election-year subject matter, from attacks on civilrights to the Iraq disaster, you’d expect said bands’ anger to be morepassionate and scalpel-sharp than ever. But that’s not always the casewith the latest releases by New York’s Le Tigre and Radio 4-two ofdance-punk’s strongest torchbearers, now armed with major-labelmegaphones.
Le Tigre shout with the gumption of radical cheerleaders, and ontheir third full-length, leader Kathleen Hanna’s voice shreds through apopping landscape of synths and Italo-disco beats. Call-to-arms trackslike “After Dark” and “TKO”-plus a cover of the Pointer Sisters’ “I’mSo Excited,” complete with a reggae bridge-will get the kids out on thedance floor. But the bleaty rhythms and abrasive guitars start to pileup willy-nilly, and some of the more techno sections sound like kidsgoing bazonkers in a toy store. Lyrically, This Island favors meta-jams about being on tour, in the van, in the club; and when”Punker Plus” calls out a certain “right-wing king” for making “thirdworld war” on behalf of “oil guys,” it doesn’t take a Mensa membershipto figure out who’s being indicted. Coming from a powerful, visionaryband that’s always named names-whether shouting out feminist icons ormaking sport of John Cassavetes’ misogyny-it almost feels like they’retiptoeing.
Le Tigre’s endless energy and choreographed spunk still makes This Island sizzlewith hope and inspiration. Radio 4 could use an assist on that front.After spending two albums moving away from Gang of Four worship (ithelped when they lost the army-surplus hats), the band hired PrimalScream producer Max Heyes to give their jabby, stabby punk minimalisman electronic polish. Unfortunately, Hayes packs every cranny of everytrack with washes of distortion and keyboards. Stealing alsocomes off as woefully cynical, the sound of hipsters despairing undertotalitarian smack-down, with singer Anthony Roman intoning, “This isnot how it’s supposed to be.” By the time they get to the boggyBauhaus-in-dub number “Nation,” which rhymes “politics like cancer”with “never find the answers,” they’ve de-funned rebellion and turnedit into a task. Somebody should confiscate their disco pass.
Grades: Le Tigre, B+
Radio 4, C+