Garage-drone band the Raveonettes have composed their new album, Chain Gang of Love, under the following self-imposed sanctions: A) All the songs are recorded in the same key – Bb major. B) No more than three chords are allowed. C) Each song has to be under three minutes. D) No high-hat or ride cymbals are allowed in recording the album. And who says indie rock isn’t pretentious?
Raveonettes bandleaders Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner (Scandanavians by birth and rockers by trade) made a big, swaggering splash in the garage scene last year with their debut album, Whip it On. However, the transition to a major chord (a departure from the Bb minor of their last album) serves to transport their pouty, drone-sludge sound to something that, dare I say it, resembles vintage pop music.
The album plays like a quick spin of the AM dial through ’50s radio – that is, after being buried in static and teleported across outer space. Beneath the reverb-heavy vocals and fried electric tubes, the songs pay homage to early surf, county, pop and even vintage soul. The dual male-female lead vocals on “Noisy Summer” are suggestive of the Everly Brothers performing inside a jet engine. “The Love Gang” sounds like the theme song to an animated children’s show pervaded by whips and leather.
The songs evoke a twisted view of nostalgic summer fun. Lyrics bounce from “pretty lover boys” and “that perfect day” to “chains, black leather and sex” in seamless synthesis of old-time summer love and heavy bondage. Still, the Raveonettes fit right in with the current flux of euro-rock revivalists immigrating to U.S. airwaves, playing American music with a decidedly foreign feel.
The album isn’t helped by a few mindlessly plunking tracks such as “Little Animal” and “The Truth About Johnny.” With such regimented song structure and excruciatingly consistent Bb major, it sounds more like one big fuzzy jam session than a conceptualized new album. Three-quarters of the way through the album the summer fun begins to lose its charm and the songs become indistinguishable, differentiated only by the feedback freakouts and subtle tempo changes.
For the calculation of their image and the absurdity of their by-the-rules schtick, the Raveonettes have managed to put out a listenable, sporadically danceable album (“Heartbreak Stroll” is possibly the underwear-rockout song of the year). Chain Gang of Love is, considering its stylistic limitations, an enjoyable set of tunes, but writing without the blessing of variety is no way to create a memorable new album in such an overpopulated genre. It’s time to diversify, or at least pick a new chord. After two albums and 21 songs, we’re sick of Bb.
Rating: 3 stars.