Sometimes all the blame for a disaster can be traced to a simple bad decision. In the case of Radio 4 and their album Stealing of a Nation, that crucial moment was when they hired Max Heyes to produce the record. Maybe it was record company pressure, maybe it was the band's own choice, but however it came down, the result is the same. Stealing of a Nation is a slick, calculated record that misses its target on all accounts. It aims to be a big statement, a political treatise detailing how corrupt and wrong "the system" is, set to incendiary rhythms meant to get people boogying while they tear down the walls of injustice. Fair enough. It is good to have ambition. Unfortunately, the smoothed-out sound of the disc and bland, lifeless tunes won't do much to inspire people. If you want devotion, you have to throw in some tunes that people can sing along to. Ask Billy Bragg. Ask the Clash. And if they aren't singing along, at least get them out on the dancefloor like !!! do on Louden Up Now. The worst thing you can do is inspire yawns as Radio 4 have done here. Perhaps they should have retained the services of the DFA again as producers and created an album as exciting, raw, and alive as Gotham! Instead Heyes (who has worked with Ocean Colour Scene and Doves, to give you some idea where he is coming from) loads the sound up with lots of modern bells and whistles like techno sequencers, guitar effects, and keyboard doodles, but in the process pretty much ruins everything. The guitars sound distant and processed, the drums and bass aren't heavy enough to inspire much dancefloor action, the vocals are way out in front of the music (which considering the mostly pedestrian and empty lyrics, does no one any favors), and most mystifyingly, every song seems to have the same rat-a-tat-tat conga line that the Clash used in "This Is Radio Clash." Overall it sounds less like the work of a band getting together and coming up with a sound or a direction than it does the result of a computer program cooked up to replicate the currently newest wave of new wave sounds. Not that computers are necessarily bad. It is just that Radio 4 made such a great record without relying on them so heavily, one wishes they had gone for a similar approach here. As it is, songs like "(Give Me All Your) Money" and "State of Alert" call to mind the era of Jesus Jones and EMF, "Dismiss the Sound" sounds like Depeche Mode in their hard-rocking days, and at other times you get traces of INXS or Alabama 3. These are all names you have to be sure Radio 4 were not aiming to be linked to, but again it is about choices. You can stay true to yourself and your sound and maybe make a good record, or you can aim for the big time and take the risk of making a record that leaves behind all the things that made you great. Having said all that, there are some flashes of excitement here and there: "Absolute Affirmation" has an organic Ted Leo meets New Order feel, "State of Alert" has a hook that sticks with you for a while, and "Nation" has some spiffy dub effects. That's not a lot to hang your hat on; however, their track record surely led fans to expect more. To paraphrase Beach Boy Carl Wilson speaking about his band's Smiley Smile album, Stealing of a Nation is a foul ball when we were hoping for a home run.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra