Review: The Radio Dept., 'Running Out Of Love'
Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.
The U.S. isn't the only country making stark political choices in 2016. In Scandinavia, ostensibly one of the most progressive regions on the planet (then again, maybe not), a conservative movement is picking up speed in the form of the counterintuitively named Sweden Democrats. On Sunday night, Swedish Prime Minster Stefan Löfven, a Social Democrat, called the nationalist group "a Nazi party, a racist party" during a debate on national TV, prompting the organization to file a complaint with Sweden's parliament.
The Sweden Democrats have seen their popularity rise in part because of their objection to Sweden's immigration policies. During the country's elections in 2014, the party promised to reduce immigration by 90 percent; that mission has helped it more than double its numbers in the polls, from less than 13 percent two years ago to almost 27 percent now.
What does nationalist sentiment have to do with a new album? In the case of The Radio Dept.'s Running Out Of Love, just about everything. While Sweden's politics were shifting, the long-running Swedish synth-pop duo was writing and recording its fourth album. Beginning with the non-album single "Death To Fascism" in 2014, Johan Duncansson and Martin Larsson have used their platform as one of the country's most popular independent acts to protest the rise of Sweden's far right. Yes, their drum machines kill fascists.
On Running Out Of Love, Duncansson and Larsson pair upbeat, sometimes joyous pop with political and cultural critique. "Sloboda Narodu" continues where "Death To Fascism" left off, with Duncansson singing, "Don't ask for patience / 'Cause we just don't have the time / Freedom now / Freedom now." The album's best song, "Swedish Guns," calls attention to Sweden's thriving arms business: "And guess what came to town (the Swedish guns) / And guess what burned it down (the Swedish guns) / And every life they took (with Swedish guns)." In "We Got Game," Duncansson recounts a scenario that might sound familiar to Americans: "You keep talking middle ground / So sick of hearing about that middle ground / This is it, you can't go 'round / There's just no other middle to be found."
It's easy to overlook The Radio Dept.'s messages while listening to Running Out Of Love: For 13 years, Duncansson and Larsson have demonstrated a tremendous gift for effervescent hooks that often obscure the lyrics buried beneath. Dig deep and pay attention: This album was made for 2016.