If you plotted hopes for The Ting Tings’ second album on a graph, the result would be a drawn-out, four-year nosedive. After the boisterous, day-glo brilliance of their 2008 debut, We Started Nothing, the odd-couple duo seemed like one of UK pop’s brightest prospects. Then they announced their second album would be called Kunst, an instantly-wearisome joke that suggested sneery disdain for their pop fanbase, and they became mired in lengthy recording sessions in Berlin, that clichéd halfway house for disillusioned ‘serious’ artists. After dramatically abandoning a whole album of material, the question changed from "will the new album be good?" to "will it ever exist?".
Now it’s finally arrived, it seems reasonable to approach Sounds From Nowheresville with caution, particularly given the hideous cover image of a skeletonised Katie White and Jules de Martino. It might as well be daubed in blood and excreta, announcing "Pop Fans Stay Away". Which is plain bloody-mindedness because – despite its eclectic genre-hopping and snotty art-punk attitude – this is first and foremost a pop album (indeed, one song, the strumming, breathy Day to Day, sounds like a 99% DNA match for It’s OK!, by those revered art-house rebels Atomic Kitten).
The good news is that Sounds From Nowheresville is also a very enjoyable pop album. Opener Silence is a sleek scene-setter, carried along by a slow-burning electro throb and a White vocal that is cool and sweet as ice cream. It’s swiftly followed by Hit Me Down Sonny and Hang It Up, two propulsive blasts of elasticated pop funk which recapture the energy and bratty assurance of their debut, without ever quite relocating the killer choruses.
Elsewhere the album has an intentionally restless ‘playlist’ feel, though it often sounds like a playlist assembled half drunk. Guggenheim fuses beatnik-y spoken word verses with a splenetic punky chorus and narrowly succeeds through sheer eccentric charm, while the fidgety garage rock of Give It Back propels the listener along irresistibly. Less successfully, Soul Killing’s ingredients of a bright reggae groove and fidgety vocal hooks never quite add up to a satisfying dish, while the melodramatic, Spanish-tinged ballad In Your Life is more sketch than song.
Sounds From Nowheresville is neither the Klaxons-style second album catastrophe that seemed increasingly likely, nor the step forward into pop greatness that once seemed possible. It’s fun, but not a lot to show for four years work. If the duo wants to live up to that initial promise, they will need to up their game and their work rate.
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The Ting Tings trademark, which inspired the album title for bandmates Katie White and Jules De Martino is simple; to make tracks that sound different to the one before; to have musical freedom and to be held by no boundaries. The first single ‘Hang It Up’ with its irresistible two chord guitar riff symbolises just that.
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