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Wrapped in black
on 27 September 2005
Let it be known: "Pretty in Black" is not the same Raveonettes you know and love.
Sure we have the creepy vocals from Sune Rose Wagner, and the rough retro sound. But after two increasingly catchy albums' worth of music, the Raveonettes have gotten a lot poppier. The trend started in "Chain Gang of Love" peaks here, in a controversial new sound that retains some of the gloomy grandeur, but loses the ragged lo-fi sound.
Acoustics and echoes start it off on a surprisingly soft note, considering that this was the band who turned "tornado rock" into an art form. And Sharin Foo takes lead vocals an ethereal ballad, before shifting back into garage-rock form with "Love in a Trashcan," which sounds like the Velvet Underground's catchier moments.
What follows is a mixture of rough-edged ballads and pop songs, mixed in with the slightly fuzzy rock'n'roll that the Raveonettes have made famous. That bleak sound remains in it, especially when Wagner sets his creepy vocals in the middle of the songs, or when he harmonizes alongside Foo for that androgynous effect.
A cringeworthy moment comes in with the truly awful cover of "My Boyfriend's Back," where Foo sings without a shred of irony, "look out now/cause he's comin' after you!/Hey ya hey ya/my boyfriend's back." Call me a weirdo, but right now I really long for songs about how your sweetie is a little animal and how she always wants to... well, you get the idea.
Anyhow, it's pretty obvious that the Raveonettes have turned a major corner with "Pretty in Black" -- it's catchy and retropoppy, and much of their "tornado-rock" edge has vanished. Instead of distortion pedals and bass, they use more percussion, guitar and some wicked organ,
Taken only by itself, is it a good album? Well, yes. It's not the same as the previous albums by the Raveonettes, but it is an entertaining indie pop album, alternately bleak and catchy, snide and dark. And it's rough, slightly fuzzed rhythms haven't changed too much -- they simply lack the dark distortion, which, ironically, was what attracted many fans to them.
The latter half of the album has some more exotic stylings, like a tambourine and some truly eerie electronic wobbles and wavers. And "Pretty In Black" does differ a lot from the previous two in one way: Sharin Foo lends her pretty, strong vocals to several songs, sometimes solo and sometimes alongside Wagner.
Retro mod-pop -- rather than dark distortion rock -- is the sound of "Pretty in Black," the lightest of the Raveonettes' albums thus far. Entertaining, but if they go any further into the pop wilderness, they may lose their edge altogether. Here's hoping they keep their accessibility, but don't lose that dark, rough edge.