Radio 4' Gotham!
The new release from Bis is the "FAC2002" 12-inch. Bis are a Scots post-riot grrl trio who scored a minor hit in the UK mid-90s, and who got soundly ridiculed by the music press for their chirpy welding of '77 disco to '79 new wave. Those critics will have apoplectic fits even imagining the band covering such untouchables as Joy Division and early A Certain Ratio. The fact the single is a cheeky, off-kilter blast of cute electro-pop that would've been fawned over if, say, Cornelius had made it is neither here nor there. Music is not supposed to be fun. Unless it's we're all drinkers in here together boy, or academic eggheads lauding our knowledge of obscure British b-sides.
"Someone needs to start a fire in here," sing NYC's Radio 4 on the second track of Gotham, their second album. Damn straight. Jittery guitar lines pep up whiteboy funk that feels stolen from a skinny-tie, downbeat version of The Wedding Singer. Second song, "Start a Fire" (someone's being uncannily prescient), sounds like a poorly worked-through outtake from Sandinista!. Surely this is bordering on heinous, this malappropriation of English left-field rock and David Byrne's padded eyebrows. (Isn't it?) Syn-toms sounded out-of-date, even?especially?in 1978. (Didn't they?) The Clash should never have approached reggae and never had any sense of rhythm, just occasion. (Everyone knows that, surely?)
Yet it's doubtful Radio 4 will ever approach the level of scorn Bis attracted. First, they're from NYC?and you can't beat that for cool, even though the town has a woeful record of decent white rock since its no-wave heyday in the late 70s, and the Strokes' album is third-division new wave. (We're talking Graham Parker & the Rumour here: the British?sigh?Springsteen.) Second, they don't have a female singer perceived to be overweight and kitsch. (Like that matters.) Sensible, postcollegiate haircuts are the order of the day in Radio 4, and the five members are sussed enough to namecheck bands like BS 2000 and the hideously overrated Le Tigre in interviews for the way they incorporate electronica into rock. Radio 4 don't, not really?unless you think of the Gang of Four and their peers, hula-hoop-wielding Joe Jackson and the female-led Delta 5 as electronic pioneers. (They weren't.) They actually belong to the same traditionalist rock/funk mold as Talking Heads, circa that fucking MTV hit.
Third, they're serious. Very. Fucking. Serious. Context is vital and all that, and songs with titles like "Certain Tragedy," "Save Your City" and "End of the Rope" are going to take on fresh shades of meaning post-9/11, but. Just but.
I'm not denying I'd far rather hear Radio 4 than one more bloody hair band ripping off Keith Richards' collection of Muddy Waters licks, but to be quite honest I thought the Gang of Four had sold out by the time they released their first album.
Still. It's time for angular, serious rock students to stalk the street once more, jumping at every shadow. Well, that's peachy. Very fucking serious: Gang of Four, eh? That's like setting out your Declaration of Intent for Music in big bold letters, underlined with the sweat of a thousand workers. Yet more boys who can't dance create music thinking they can. As someone a tad richer than me once sang, just what I needed. Three out of five.
Radio 4 play Saturday, April 13, at Don Hill's, 511 Greenwich St. (Spring St.), 219-2850.
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