Review of the Week: The Raveonettes
I was always biased against the Raveonettes; blame it on their perceived style-over-substance M.O. or that extra "e" in their name. But this, their noisiest and catchiest collection yet, has all the songwriting substance I could want in a pop-rock record. (And, give me a break DeVille, is that "e" really all that bad?)
The Danish duo's last record, Pretty In Black, embodied everything I don't like about them. Instead of filtering their retro rock fixation through layers of distortion, Jesus and Mary Chain-style, as they'd always done before, they gussied it up in layers of schmaltz instead. The gloss sucked out the band's vitality in the name of super-slick high fidelity, rendering them just another retro rock band built on fashion sense and nostalgia.
Lust Lust Lust, on the other hand, literally crackles with energy. It's a loud album no matter how you crank your volume knob, bathing the band in more static and reverb than ever before. Most importantly, these dark-hued pop ditties represent some of the band's finest songwriting to date.
John Ross noted that they've gone all the way on the Jesus and Mary Chain tip this time. It's true, and as someone who always liked the idea of Jesus and Mary Chain better than the execution, I like this record better than Psychocandy. That's heresy in some quarters, but let's just consider it a new testament.
Part of what makes these songs so good is the way that nasty production plays a part in otherwise pristine songwriting. Where this year's other big JAMC tribute, Magnetic Fields' Distortion, often seemed to shroud songs in static for the sake of keeping up a theme, this one is built on abrasion from the ground up. From the shards of glass thrusting angrily atop "Aly, Walk With Me" to the stomping clatter of "Sad Transmission," noise is central to these songs, and they're all the better for it. I love noisy pop, but it makes sense here whether you gravitate toward noise or not. The rough-and-tumble sonics lend themselves to the yarns of romantic distress these two weave. On an album devoted to love's less pure cousin, so much friction just makes sense.
But noise isn't going to save weak pop songs, only elevate good ones to greatness. Fortunately, this album has more of its share of would-be hits. The Raveonettes continue to mine 1950s rock and sleepy-eyed girl-group pop, displaying a mastery of melancholy vocal harmonizing and simple-but-powerful guitar solos. Occasionally, they fall back into the style-over-substance trap (the goofy "You Want the Candy," perhaps a Psychocandy nod, being the main offender), but more often these retro nuggets sound vital and current.
On the new Times New Viking album, there's a song called "Times New Viking vs. Yo La Tengo"; it sounds like a Guided by Voices song. Lust Lust Lust fits that TNV v. YLT description much better, combining the clamor and passion of our local attention mongers with the grace and reverence of Hoboken's finest. Check out "Lust" and see if you don't know what I mean.
Grade: A- Download: "Hallucinations"