Pretty in Black
his is The Raveonettes best yet, partly due to variety, even if that variety provides for some of its biggest weaknesses. They broaden their throw-back touchstones to include country-influenced pop of the fifties, stripping away layers of noise from most tracks. Right off the blocks, the album surprises with a doleful country weeper, pickin’ away at that ol’ lonesome heart, then swings into a beautiful, stately waltz. It’s quite fetching, with Sune Rose Wagner’s pining verses offset by Sharin Foo’s half-time choruses. She’s vulnerable and delicate sounding, the slow tempo and sleigh-bells evocative of a music-box ballerina making a wobbly attempt at a salacious grind.
Back-to-back illustrations of slavishness and inspiration follow; lead single “Love in a Trashcan” has a hopelessly square beat, which is unredeemed by the off-kilter chimes ending each measure of the chorus. One can see the need for a single indicating continuity with past material, but the tongue-in-cheek attitude just doesn’t jibe on an album that is, for the most part, so affecting. “Sleepwalking,” slinks by you on first listen, nearly getting out of earshot by the time you’ve realized you should grab it. Vaguely unmemorable psych-garage builds and swells, cresting into a wicked canyon-echoing tom and tremolo led breakdown, with the final triangle attack signaling an abrupt awakening.
The anachronistic stance of the album is a bit much on the next couple of songs. “Uncertain Times,” with the line “if the atom bomb should end us both, I’ll be happy to go to the stars with you,” is hard to countenance these days, even if it’s a pleasant tune. Even worse, “My Boyfriend’s Back” was timely for approximately two weeks upon release. It fares no better as new wave with surf guitar. The more you hear it, the more it grates, ultimately sounding like a weak Flying Lizards outtake. While nuclear worries, and those of a jealous boyfriend from the era of girl-ownership, should probably not have been replaced with more current concerns, these tracks just sound dated.
“Here Comes Mary” is pure Everly Bliss, which is a big improvement, but not remarkable; Martin Rev’s contribution is less apparent than it is on “You Say You Lie,” where he has a nice Theremin-ish line that mutates into some pleasant whooshes. It’s rather hard to pick him out on “Uncertain Times,” as well. Moe Tucker fares better on “Red Tan,” but, then again, a straightforward 50s thud is pretty easy to pick up on. The song is another bifurcated structure, with fairly strident segments augmented by suave choruses. Throughout, the band shows a remarkable facility for making difficult transitions sound smooth.
The album lacks a burner on the level of “That Great Love Sound,” but “Twilight” comes damned close, with its Zoned surf tweedles perfectly balanced by Sune and Sharin’s best breathy, sexy vocals. It’s spangled with lingering-vulture reverb picks, stomping fuzz bass and a delightfully mushy drum sound, likely one of Moe Tucker’s appearances. The level of restraint displayed in the attack may even end up making it the band’s lasting classic, as its charms are less likely to wear off than “TGLS.”
Once again, though, a highlight is stepped on by a flat retread. “Somewhere in Texas” is the type of dreadful seventies country-rock that furtively slipped a few genes for bathos into the power-ballad way back in the schlock family tree. “How many times do I have to lose you (to lose you, to lose you) before I realize it’s too late?” Is that a rhetorical question? I mean, you lose your man “Somewhere in Texas, by the yellow sand,” how much track of him were you really keeping?
“Ode to L.A.” is also slightly ham-handed, but the material’s so much more appealing and infectious. The booming tom, more sleigh-bells, and swell reverb carry a great classic girl-group sound fairly far before Ronnie Spector shows up nearly halfway through. Her delivery of “L.A. and all her crazy charms” is especially apt, and the classic “Whoah-oh-oh”’s running through the background get brought to the very front for the closing phrase. It’s a pefect build up to the closer “If I was Young,” another nearly pure evocation of country, this time with slide rather than strum.
The larger scope of the album bodes well for The Raveonettes, after being dismissed by many as a flash in the pan. It’s a shame that there are several clunkers mixed with such strong material—the EP A Touch of Black shows that they had enough good tunes to release a much more solid album. Then again, I’m probably just being a crank, and my flubs will end up being the hooks that sell the album to the masses.
Reviewed by: Dan Miron
Reviewed on: 2005-05-03