Radio Retaliation is the fifth studio album for Washington D.C. based duo Thievery Corporation, which consists of deejays Rob Garza and Eric Hilton. While the album is the follow-up to 2006’s Versions which consisted primarily of remixes and their popular 2005 release The Cosmic Game, which rose to No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Electronic Albums chart and sold over 150,000 copies in the United States, Radio Retaliation falls short of its predecessors. Despite the incorporation of numerous world music singers, the down-tempo, ambient, lounge theme remains central and really doesn’t present anything new or out of the ordinary. Often categorized as “world music,” Thievery Corporation remains true to this notion through the inclusion of Brazilian, Nigerian, Middle-Eastern, Afro-rhythm, and Latin beats. Guest musicians joining Hilton and Garza on the album include Anoushka Shankar, daughter of renowned sitar player Ravi Shankar, Slovakian violinist and vocalist Jana Andevska, Brazilian singer Seu Jorge, award-winning Nigerian afro-beat star Femi Kuti, and “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown among others.
“Sound the Alarm,” kicks off the album with an emergency alarm sample which lasts about 18 seconds and fades into an energetic reggae dub ordering to “sound the alarm, order the attack.” The album’s second track entitled “Mandela” featuring Shankar is an instrumental manifestation of rich drum beats and sitar strumming which transcends into an innovative acid-jazz funk jam. “Radio Retaliation,” the title track, features reggae singer Sleepy Wonder who sets forth the political agenda of Thievery Corporation: “50,000 watts of Thievery hit them like poison darts, and watch the whole system what them build up fall apart.” The last track entitled “Sweet Tides,” featuring vocalist LouLou, is a sweet soft boss nova tune that provides a perfect ending to this “chill” album.
The CD comes in a rustic cardboard packaging enveloped loosely in a poster fold-out insert. The leaflet itself measuring 20” x 30” when unfolded contains the lyrics of each song randomly placed along the front and back. The artwork consists of a large Rasta-colored bulls-eye on both sides, surrounded by cut and paste images of electronics, music equipment, cameras, bullets, pixilated people, and infamous quotes from the likes of Timothy Leary, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Hunter S. Thompson, Joe Strummer and numerous others. In addition, a footnote included amongst the other quotes implicates that “the quotes and images assembled on the enclosed poster collage are intended to convey a transformative political and social message” and are in no way intended to represent the significance of Radio Retaliation but of Thievery Corporation itself. Interestingly enough, the deliverance of their message is subtle and doesn’t outshine the music.
While I wasn’t a fan of Thievery Corporation until I saw them live a few months ago in Austin, Texas, I’ve come to realize that their live performance is much more captivating than their studio work. Whereas, you’d typically hear this style or type of music at a lounge or coffee shop, Thievery Corporation has reinvented the genre into something more appealing to the masses. I was blown away by their stage presence which included a belly dancer clad in archaic Arab garb, an array of backup musicians and guest singers Federico Aubele and Seu Jorge. The gravitational effect of the music was prevalent in the crowd’s endless dancing and celebration of being “one.”