Since their arrival in 1995, The Radio Dept. have developed a reputation as one of music’s most important bands. Through their first three albums, they demonstrated that pop music could simultaneously entertain while tackle some of the world’s most difficult questions and issues of the day. They were the genre’s equivalent to the great protest singer-songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s, taking on the establishment for its injustices.
The Radio Dept.’s new album, Running Out Of Love, is no different in its focus, yet it is the band’s most ambitious project. They have moved away from the dream-pop vibes that occupied their previous efforts to dabbling in ’80s electronica, new wave, and synth-pop. The juxtaposition between sound and message is a fascinating experiment to witness. In less adept hands, this attempt would utterly fail. Johan Duncanson and Martin Carlberg, however, have shown for two decades they are masters of their craft.
The solemn “Can’t Be Guilty” encapsulates the genius of the duo. What sounds like a love song out of an ’80s sitcom, the biting lyrics refer to untouchable status of those in power and the powerlessness of the people. The stark “Swedish Guns” further reveals The Radio Dept.’s brilliance, as the darkwave beats hammer home the condemnation of the growing arms industry in Sweden. While these two songs are subtle in the messaging, the duo are forthright on “We Got Game”. The track is a full-out, lyrical assault on the politicians and growing fascists in Sweden.
On the synth-driven “This Thing Was Bound To Happen”, Duncanson and Carlberg share their regret for not doing more to prevent the growing divisions in their country. The song is a rare introspective examination by The Radio Dept. It is the duo recognizing that all must share in the responsibility of the rise of Sweden’s far-right party and its ideals. The album’s closer, “Teach Me To Forget”, which weaves a mesmerizing combination of darkwave and trip-hop, is similarly absorbed in regret and remorse. The number makes for an interesting bookend to the opener, “Sloboda Narodu”. Translated as “Freedom of the People”, the song has a vibrant and even optimistic outlook that people can change the world.
Then again, as Running Out Of Love has shown, The Radio Dept. are anything but predictable – at least musically. Duncanson and Carlberg have never been driven by fame and wealth, but always motivated by the times they live in. They are the modern-day versions of John Lennon and Pete Seeger. They are artists who feel compelled to stand up for a cause instead of writing music about familiar subjects. And in a time of growing divisions between people caused by fear and hate, the world could use more artists like The Radio Dept. More bands who challenge our notion of music and the world we live in. Running Out Of Love achieves all these things. It is not merely a brilliant album by an incomparable band, but arguably one of the year’s most remarkable and important LPs.
Running Out Of Love is out now via Labrador Records. Let’s hope we don’t have wait six years before they release another album. When the next one arrives, hopefully it will be one that celebrates positive change.
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