Thievery Corporation formed in 1996 and has released 5 studio albums in that timeframe, plus a staggering amount of remixes, singles, compilations, and various soundtrack recordings. This immense catalog of work has displayed their exotic sound and varied moods, as their albums have merit in rambunctious dance halls or in late night chill lounges. The duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton recorded 15 ambitious tracks for this album. These tracks reflect a wide variety of international musical styles, including Jamaican, Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern sounds. The resulting concoction is thoughtful, politically motivated, and sonically ambitious. This album is punctuated with strong performances from a large collection of guest musicians, including Nigerian afro-beat star Femi Kuti, Brazilian vocalist and guitarist Seu Jorge, and Indian Anushka Shankar on sitar.
"Sound the Alarm," with its Jamaican dancehall feel provides a warm opening, but ultimately is a "call-to-arms" that underlines the political statements that represent the ideological core of the album. "Mandala," freshly plucked from the remote mountains of Tibet, is punctuated by plush layers and fat beats. The album's title track, "Radio Retaliation," saunters past, ultimately fusing reggae rhythms, dancehall vocals, and strong percussion into a sing-along anthem. The refined, enticing "Vampires" features smooth vocals, energetic percussion work, and silky horns. "El Pueblo Unido," with yearning lyrics, displays a love for Latin American culture, while "Le Femme Parallel" showcases a continental European persuasion. The "Retaliation Suite," with its jazzy horns and subtle percussion exemplifies the late night lounge lizard, the epitome of smoothness and "cool." An instrumental track called "The Shining Path" shimmers, ethereal and soothing, while "Sweet Tides" features elusive vocals and stripped down beats in what amounts to a wistful, almost melancholic, conclusion to the album. The overall feel of the album is quite arresting, as Garza and Hilton have offered a vast array of musical styles and infused them with dense, satisfying grooves.
As a long-time fan of Thievery Corporation, I have charted their career over the years and I find "Radio Retaliation" to be an accomplished, well-executed return to musical prominence. In the earlier days of my fandom, I had loved "Songs From the Thievery Hi-Fi," as it featured elegant, addictive beats. "The Mirror Conspiracy," with its myriad flavors and exotic delicacies, offered even more ammunition for addiction, which I greedily consumed. I found the next two albums, "The Richest Man in Babylon" and "The Cosmic Game," to be less triumphant and their time in high rotation diminished after repeated listening. However, in listening to "Radio Retaliation," I am reminded by those attributes that drew me to Thievery Corporation in the first place. The tracks on this album are refined and cultured, yet offer a satisfying heaping of bump and groove. The "international feel" of the album is prominent but not forced or awkward; interesting compositions come to light as various cultures and musical styles collide. The tracks on the album are highly danceable, yet feature themes of political unrest and social tension. This sort of duplicity is interesting and well-delivered in the tracks of "Radio Retaliation." In releasing a fifth album of engaging compositions, Garza and Hilton continue to raise the bar for themselves and for my own expectations of them. "Radio Retaliation" is proof that they are up to the challenge.
- By J. Evan Wade