REVIEW: THE RADIO DEPT. – RUNNING OUT OF LOVE (2016)
Somewhere at a private table in a swank nightclub in Stockholm, a cadre of beautifully Swedish leftists debate the Nordic Model and Swedish socialist party politics while listening to uber-sexy dance music at 128 beats per minute. If not in reality, that is the world created by The Radio Dept.’s latest, Running Out of Love. Dark, dancey, and decidedly dystopian, Love pushes the band in new directions sonically. Lyrically, the album is a treatise on everything that is fucked with the world, especially Sweden, in 2016.
The duo of Johan Duncanson and Martin Carlberg isn’t exactly known for churning out new material with a quickness, their last full length, Clinging to a Scheme, coming in 2010. “Death to Fascism” hinted at new music, a full four years later in 2014. It was the duo’s first song since being sidetracked by a messy legal battle with their label, Labrador Records. Another single, a charmingly poppy analysis of the Greek financial meltdown, “This Repeated Sodomy” came a year later. And now, in the closing months of 2016 comes Running Out of Love, only the band’s fourth full length in 13 years.
The Croatian anti-fascist slogan that “Death to Fascism” is built around surfaces again on Love’s opening cut, “Sloboda Naradu,” a clever nod to the track that got Duncanson and Carlberg’s creative juices flowing again. Though The Radio Dept.’s music is unapologetically political, it’s delivery is more Kid A than “Bulls on Parade.”
While the connective tissue from 2003’s Lesser Matters, through Pet Grief (2006), and Clinging to a Scheme (2010) is there, older fans may miss the shoegazey, Belle and Sebastian-esque vibes of past albums. Running Out of Love draws inspiration from ‘90s club music, referencing classic House like Frankie Knuckles and Inner City, as well as UK garage and jungle riddims. Duncanson and Carlberg finally feel comfortable enough with their sound to fully embrace sounds that previous songs and albums only hinted at.
“Swedish Guns” is a sexy, synthy reggae party. It’s film noir mystique, trench coats and concealed guns, all but obscures the songs strongly worded message. Sweden, the world’s third largest weapons manufacture, despite all the world’s praises for its socialist welfare state, very much has blood on it’s hands.
“We Got Game” is the album’s signature sound. The song is a soundtrack to revolutionary voguing, fashion models turned Patty Hearsts, on the catwalk. With a lyrical nod to Inner City vocalist Paris Grey (no doubt a huge inspiration on the album, especially here), “We Got Game” addresses police protection of fascist protestors, “the kind of guys you would not like to spoon.”
“Thieves of State” is a David Lynchian segue into the previously released single, “Occupied.” A hard driving four-on-the-floor beat with more of the Twin Peaks-style synths of “Thieves of States”, the song directly references the band’s legal battle with their label and publisher, Labrador Records. A slinky bassline and lock step hi hats, the signature Madchester sound, makes “Committed to the Cause” one of the album’s best songs.
“This Thing Was Bound to Happen” and “Can’t be Guilty,” lean more towards the indie-dance and pop electronica of 2010’s Clinging to a Scheme. At the time of that album’s release, it seemed like this sound was everywhere. Band’s like Cut Copy, LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, and Friendly Fires dominated at the dawn of this century’s second decade. Alongside those acts, The Radio Dept. was a deep cut, a foreign love affair for serious fans of the genre. Now, with DJs again dominating the dance music world, The Radio Dept have refined, tightened and redirected, and returned better than ever.
Love’s instrumental title track, buried deep on the record, is the closest the duo come to sounding like their former selves. Somber guitars and a downtempo groove, the song is a three minute break from the pulsing dance floor. Closing cut “Teach Me to Forget” brings back the Ibiza flare.
The band themselves have characterized Running Out of Love as “dystopian,” and it’s hard not to listen to this record and imagine waiting out the revolution by dancing in the bombed out bones of a burning urban core. Running out of Love “is about the impatience that turns into anger, hate and ultimately withdrawl and apathy when love for the world and our existence begins to falter.” Despite the dark days, The Radio Dept. have returned with their best effort to date.