Sunday, June 11, 2006

Radio 4 / Enemies Like This / Rating: 3.6

“Given what they've cranked out to date, maybe Radio 4 should worry less about their enemies, and more about the finished product.”

Pitchfork might dislike Radio 4 more than Joan of Arc or anything by Tim Kinsella. Who knew that was even possible?

For those who remember PFM’s last Radio 4 review written by the now infamous Nick Sylvestor, believe it or not this new review is a step up; not only in rating but in actual review content. The slanderous speak from what reads like an Ivy League campus bully is all par for the course and at this point if any of us find that troubling than we should probably abandon reading Pitchfork all together.

Put anything under a microscope and quite naturally cracks become canyons. As a person who takes a magnifying glass to Pitchfork’s review section daily I understand this concept better than most. Under scrutiny the most innocent sentence can be blown up into a smoking gun and in focusing in on a record, a lyric or a guitar part can be distorted into something resembling a crime rather than a piece of art. From a distance everything seems a little more flawless but how many things can survive a close up?

The answer: not many. Not Pitchfork, not Radio 4, not even *GULP* me. We can’t be perfect (don’t let my name fool you), it is nearly impossible so all we can ask of each other is to try our very best and go out on a limb and be true to ourselves AKA be as original as a thinking feeling creative human can be.

So onto the review already.

If you have taken a poetry class or an English lit class, you probably remember that certain words carry an instant positive or negative connotation and this particular review is a perfect case study of subtle coded slaps.

PFM strikes using phrases like:

"but when Anthony Roman opens his yap he consigns the band's good deeds to the remainder bin"
"Roman could use a foot in the ass…"
"Unfortunately, Enemies Like This features Roman front and center, weighing in on such topical chestnuts"
"Dig this big crux…"
"Frisky songs like..."

This particular use of language dilutes my respect for PFM’s opinions; no matter how well they are backed up with valid points. Pitchfork might be right as rain here but the manner in which the ideas are expressed are just too playground fisticuffs for my taste.

What it all boils down to is there are worse records out there (Rye I am looking in your direction) and while this isn’t my favorite Radio 4 release (the first one is) or even my favorite music from band leader Anthony Roman ( Viva la Garden Variety) I am rather convinced Enemies Like This is Radio 4 trying their hardest. You may not like the band, lyrically or musically but there was clearly an effort made to avoid the mistakes from their past and production wise this is hands down the best sounding record the band has ever made.

Let me get the rating issue out the way first and say I would give Enemies a 6.5 and if you know their music well or Roman’s history as a musician, Enemies Like This offers the best vocals (both pitch and melody) that he has EVER done to date. If I had a most improved award to give away, it would go to him (and Kaitlan from Rainer Maria). And sorry, I don’t hear any Winnie the Pooh character here as PFM sarcastically suggests.

Radio 4 hasn’t strayed far from the sound they started with (even with a new guitar player and the addition of extra percussion along the way) and while bands like the Clash (heck even Big Audio Dynamite), Gang Of Four, and name your favorite dub artist here- still apply to the band, they at least do it pretty darn well. I hate to hear a band trying too hard and if there is one thing I can fault the band for, it’s for sounding too manicured and forced. I miss the old Radio 4 who didn’t sound like they had been practicing for six straight months to get a set list of new material down pat. I personally don’t want perfect, I want natural spooning with spontaneity. I think we all can agree here and say music fans like a quality happy accident. (and no I don’t mean the Doughboys record) Happy accident meaning a band that happens to create something special rather than forcing something that is formulaic to what they think their audience might deem as excellent.

Musically I think friends of the band and foes alike can say Radio 4 reeks of their influence and it wouldn’t be much of a game to guess what bands / artists these guys like from year to year. I hold Radio 4 to the same expectation I have for all artists: just be yourselves. Failing as an original band earns more respect than failing as a veritable tribute band any day. My problem with PFM’s disdain for their sound is this;I could say the same thing about 90% of the most popular indie bands out here. Anybody who is reading this site (a review of a f'ing review) is probably a big enough music nerd to say the same thing. Clap Your Hands, Tapes N Tapes, Banhart…we all know who these artists are sweet on so why string just one band up for this very common thread of borrowing in music?

I have to admit I nearly spit out my soda pop when I heard “Too Much to Ask For” which at the start is the mirror image of APB’s “Shoot You Down”. (APB is one of my favorite post-punk dance bands ever) but I hear music all day that I can sing another song over it or that sounds suspiciously like other songs I have heard before.

Secondly I am a stickler for lyrics but once again Radio 4 doesn’t deeply offend me. If you know Roman's lyric history, few comparisons of his written work have ever been made to any literary greats and again there are so many bands whining on about nothing that it is hard to put down Radio 4 when at least they clearly have put some thought into what they are singing.

Sorry but if you listen to enough music you will be hard pressed to hear someone saying something new or different. Some people are just better at expressing ideas than others.

Taking a closer final listen to Radio 4 none of these flaws warrant a brutal critical attack of the band. I am willing to bet most reviews will fault the band for wearing out their angular welcome (that was soo 5 years ago) but will still offer an overall positive reaction to this record and I will join in that chorus.

Leave it to Pitchfork to rain on a parade when it should really read more like a sprinkle.