Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
||Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Take Them On, On
||The Raveonettes: Chain Gang of Love
Posted: September 12,
Kevin Forest Moreau
A good year or so before the Secret Cabal of Mainstream Rock Critics
got together and decided to convince us all that the Strokes were the most
exciting band since the Sex Pistols, California's Black Rebel Motorcycle
Club was creating a buzz the old-fashioned way, via well-received live
shows and an arresting, if uneven, debut album (2000's B.R.M.C.).
For whatever reason, Rolling Stone, Spin, MTV and
their brethren declined to galvanize widespread public support, and the
band's ambitious, arty mix of garage-rock grit, shoegazing Manchester
psychedelia and mid-'80s college-radio noise-pop simmered on the
backburner of pop-cultural consciousness.
The tastemakers are giving BRMC's follow-up, Take Them On, On Your
Own, a warmer reception, and the album did sell 20,000 copies in its
first week, outpacing first-week sales of the band's debut. Whether media
backing will translate into respectable numbers is anyone's guess, but
there's no getting around the fact that Take Them On is a study in
arrested momentum. The trio builds nicely on its now-familiar template of
laconic Love and Rockets drawl, serrated Jesus & Mary Chain distortion and
the occasional loop and swirl of vintage Ride or the Stone Roses. But in
streamlining the elements of B.R.M.C., it jettisons the wrong half
of the equation, eschewing substance for angular, affected form.
Not that Take Them On lacks heft: "Stop" best retains the
group's signature combination of sharp edges and distant vocals, while
"Shade of Blue" hangs on a hook worthy of the previous album's stately
"Awake." "Six Barrel Shotgun" is a fire-and-forget gem of quickie, crunchy
gratification. "We're All in Love," meanwhile, ever-so-slightly broadens
the group's lyrical palette beyond classic-goth yearning and disaffection.
But songs like "Generation" and "U.S. Government" tread all-too-common
ground, and their snippets of melodicism are undermined by lazy exercises
in retro-chic joyriding. Take Them On leans far too heavily on the
accouterments of the band's well-defined style. The monotony of "Ha Ha
High Baby" and the gratuitous, overlong buzz that closes album-ender
"Heart & Soul" feel forced; easy atmospherics meant to distract from a
lack of risk-taking. The album is eventually hobbled by its reassuring
drone, no longer as novel as it sounded three years back.
The Raveonettes, on the other hand, stand now where BRMC did not so
long ago. Like Take Them On, the Danish export's first full-length,
Chain Gang of Love, gets its freshness from a strongly derivative
approach. The difference is that the Raveonettes' particular amalgam of
echoes hasn't yet had time to calcify in listeners' ears. Unlike BRMC's
'80s touchstones, Chain Gang's reference points are grounded in the
1950s and '60s; in pre-Brill Building, "My Boyfriend's Back" harmonies and
Phil Spector's Wall of Sound washes, caramelized in the fuzzy guitar
squalls and angular feedback of the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody
Valentine. If that combination of influences doesn't sound promising in
print, the results are surprisingly engaging, as sweet -- and ultimately
as empty -- as a praline. "Remember," "Noisy Summer" and "Let's Rave On"
are chord-drenched, pure-pop sugar rushes, with guitarist/songwriter Sune
Rose Wagner and bassist Sharin Foo trading off on bright, chiming vocals.
But even at a svelte 33 minutes, Chain Gang wears into a
well-defined groove pretty quickly, and its breathy affectations too often
congeal into pastiche, note-perfect homages lacking in depth.
Wagner goes to the "Leader of the Pack" well too many times: "That Great
Love Sound" is a fun ride, but the cloying "The Love Gang" and
too-precious "Little Animal" are built on an increasingly obvious and
formula, heavy on trite redundancy and belabored lyrical tropes ("I'm on
the chain gang/ the chain gang of love"). The album's relatively virginal
glow wins the Raveonettes a fair amount of slack for now. But Wagner and
Foo would do well to study the
White Stripes -- not to mention Black Rebel Motorcycle Club -- for a
lesson in what happens when you place all your eggs in one (undeniably
stylish) retro basket.
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