THE LIBERTINES

"The Libertines"

Rough Trade

RADIO 4

"Stealing of a Nation"

Astralwerks

Although the Libertines draw as much on skiffle as punk, there's a reason why the band has a rapport with the Clash's Mick Jones, who produced both the London quartet's debut and its new self-titled follow-up. Like the early Clash, the Libertines teeter excitingly on the brink of collapse, which makes every successfully completed chorus sound like a triumph. As fans know, this is more than a musical device: Singer-guitarist Pete Doherty has been in and out of the group (and jail, and drug rehab centers) in the last two years. Any Libertines song could be their last.

Such chaos guarantees inconsistency, and there certainly are clunkers on "The Libertines" -- both songs that never quite cohere and ones in dubious taste. (Anyone who knows the source of the title "Arbeit Macht Frei" will be properly skeptical about the ability of Doherty and co-songwriter Carl Barat to alchemize it.) Overall, the album seems a bit more consistent than the band's debut, although consistency is hardly the key to the band's appeal. Rushing into such lustily ramshackle singalongs as "Can't Stand Me Now" and "The Man Who Would Be King," the Libertines seem to care only about that very instant.

When New York's neo-punk-funk bands arose a few years ago, they modeled themselves on circa-1980 British groups that played beat-heavy music on traditional rock instruments, notably Gang of Four and Public Image Ltd.

Radio 4 made this link explicit with both its early recordings and its name, which is derived from a PiL song title. Like other proponents of this sound, the quintet quickly encountered the limits of its reheated styles and moved on. Not too far on, however.

Radio 4's new "Stealing of a Nation" is the latest New York punk-funk album to increase the quota of electronics. So now the band sounds more like a late-'80s Manchester group, slamming punk attitude to the dance floor.

That's where the album would probably sound best, since its electrobeats and synth riffs are stronger than any other element -- including the band's politics, which are less incendiary than such titles as "State of Alert" and "Shake the Foundation" promise. Should anyone assume that Radio 4's dramatic musical gestures prove that the band sees the big picture, note that this album's opening song, the briskly petulant "Party Crashers," is an attack on other musicians who have infiltrated the scene.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Tuesday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Libertines, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8104; to hear Radio 4, press 8105. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)