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Reviews

The Raveonettes
In And Out Of Control Niall O'Keeffe , October 21st, 2009 11:56

It's a terrible thing when musicians overreach themselves. The Human League provided the ultimate cautionary example when they released their 1984 single 'The Lebanon' ("And where there used to be some shops/Is where the snipers sometimes hide"). A quarter of a century later, The Raveonettes have failed to heed that caution.

Stylistically and musically, the Danish duo's fourth album plots a familiar course: they continue to trade in bubblegum 50s rock'n'roll spiced with two-part harmonies, Spector-esque percussion, Jesus & Mary Chain-style fuzz guitar and B-movie trash-glamour aesthetics. However, they've suddenly decided to ignore an obvious reality: that lyrical profundity has never quite been their forte. The results, inevitably, are cringe-worthy.

For a short while, ambition is held in check. Hyper-melodic opener 'Bang!' keeps things almost comically simple – "You're as cool as ice cream," coos Sharin Foo inside the first verse – and it's followed by 'Gone Forever', a pleasingly wistful pop song about a relationship's end. However, with the arrival of 'Last Dance', events take a turn.

A song about fear of a loved one's death, 'Last Dance' is centred on the line "Every time you overdose, I rush to intensive care..." Foo sings it in an insufferably twee, faux-naif style, over musical backing that amounts to a mere jaunty shuffle. Even if there's a subversive intent at work here, tone and content jar horribly. Yet there's worse to come.

'Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)' expresses a noble sentiment in the tritest fashion possible. The song is a saccharine, pop confection replete with barbershop vocal harmonies, and – to hazard a guess – its flippant style would not resonate too strongly with any actual victims of sexual violence. If the medium is indeed the message, spritely doo-wop might not be the best one for this topic. One could also raise a quibble about the song's crashing obviousness. Presumably we'll have to wait for the next album to learn where The Raveonettes stand on genocide, torture and the opinions of Jan Moir.

Sadly, rape is not the only serious issue The Raveonettes ineptly address here. 'Suicide' pitches to render The Samaritans redundant with a yelped chorus of "Fuck suicide!" and, elsewhere, gets inside the mind of a "runaway girl" who's considering the ultimate step: "Your boyfriend's mean, and your mom's a bitch…"

The theme of death is revisited in 'Oh, I Buried You Today', but illumination remains scant. 'D.R.U.G.S.' , meanwhile, teaches about as much about drugs as a repeated spelling out of the word possibly could.

While more than a decade younger than her bandmate Sune Rose Wagner, Sharin Foo is bearing down on 30 now, and her persona remains a purely teenage one, all self-conscious showiness and pseudo rebellion. "I'm breaking into cars," she sneers at one point, and you almost want to weep for her.

Still, the real tragedy of 'In and Out of Control' is that when The Raveonettes ease off on the clumsy social commentary, they at times prove an effective noise-pop unit. 'Heart of Stone' mixes airy vocals with a bluesy form of shoegazing that evokes Swervedriver in their prime, but with added swagger. 'Break Up Girls', meanwhile, opens with an invigorating surge of feedback-drenched riffage, before an endearingly flat double-tracked vocal kicks in. Again we're transported back to the shoegaze era, this time to revisit early Lush. It's a verdant pasture indeed.

The album reaches a dignified conclusion with the languorous, melancholic 'Wine', a song about getting drunk on wine, and it's here that The Raveonettes find their level, as stylish chroniclers of small moments. For all their posturing rock'n'roll rhetoric, this is a band that profits from caution. One thing's glaringly evident: there'll be peace in the Middle East long before this pair manages a profound statement.

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