Who stole the punk-rock soul and replaced it with lifeless disco? Producer Max Heyes (Paul Weller, Doves) must bear some of the blame, as Radio 4's latest suffers from antiseptic production that smoothes out the spiky, scratchy post-punk riffs, making them as thin and colorless as Kate Moss. The steroidal, overdriven beats are as plump as collagen-injected lips and contribute to the album's fabricated feel, which at times sounds like the lost Jesus Jones album between Perverse and Already. For an act that conjured the best dance-punk aspects of Public Image Limited and Gang of Four on its previous two discs, Radio 4 makes a disastrous step backward with Stealing. Besides the overweening production, the first half of the album suffers from a lack of distinctiveness (partially driven by the omnipresent drum-thump). It feels like a particularly tepid house music set. Whatever unusual sounds and loops lurk on the tracks are overwhelmed by the rock-steady beat and the high mix of the vocals. Overall, it's a test-tube album. The lack of organic warmth and human grittiness can't be compensated for with all the effects, sequencers and processors in the world.
-- Chris Parker
Radio 4 plays the Echo Lounge Thurs., Oct. 21, 9 p.m. $10-$12. The Libertines headline the show. Call 404-681-3600 or visit www.echostatic.com/echolounge for more info.