Radio 4′ Gotham!

Written by Everett True on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.

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.

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out-of-date, even–especially–in 1978.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

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.