Hot diggety damn. This business called “Show” is so cut throat it makes San Quentin look like a Holiday resort. Picture Danish duo the Raveonettes. They’ve delivered four scorchio albums of gob-smacking fabness and can they catch a break? Can they heck! Why, you people should feel real guilty. Hell, I feel guilty, and I bought the records. I was their “Soccer Mom” cheering them on when times got tough. But here we stand today, and, yes, it’s true, the Raveonettes are dying of a broken heart. They’ve got them cult blues. I’m not one to point the finger of blame, but honey, it’s your paw prints on the knife. A vision of useless regret for a betrayed future! In short Raven in the Grave isn’t quite the sound of summer. No ice creams or beach volleyball today. But roll over Beethoven ‘cos the cemetery is the swingin’ new place to be seen.
The goth-glam ache is there from the first contact. Like a perfume scented séance with lipstick traces, let the circle be unbroken, and keep those hands joined, boys and girls. Recent single “Recharge & Revolt” has all the doe-eyed nostalgic wistfulness of Imperial-era Cure. After an extended intro, Sune Rose Wagner’s voice appears from beyond the grave in echo, touching from a distance. “My time has come,” he cries. I’m sensing familiar echoes of choppy guitars and rolling surf drums on the horizon, but the high life is foldin’ away into the rear view mirror, and we’re headed into stormier climes. In the pines, in the pines. An elegiac synth paints a shadow of New Order’s “Ceremony”, and here’s the Raveonettes, but not as we knew them…
The melody, the fever is still there, but now it’s buried under melancholia, memories, broken hearts. A cryptic Vertigo homage opens “War in Heaven” before promptly descending those rickety haunted house stairs into the basement. Spider web riffs, a grieving gloomy Peter Hook spiralling bass, and stabbing guitars flicker through a glass darkly. “Wait! A war in heaven!” A real dead-eyed doll, beautiful but oh-so glamorously fucked up. The fall of youth is the order of the day. “The harsh realities of our life / Let’s get out of here,” they cry over the canyon sized stop-start drums and clashing My Bloody Valentine guitars of “Apparitions”. Lyrically, they’ve been dark before, but here we’re served an endless carousel of death, silhouettes, tears, and frightened eyes. It’s life becoming a landslide, our life got cold. Charlie, don’t surf this beach.
If the Raveonettes of yore were Tarantino flick knives, bubble gum, and Ray Bans, they’re now the decaying beauty and warped nightmares of David Lynch. The Judas behind the perfect white teeth, the shark beneath the crystal blue waters. “Summer Moon” sways like Julee Cruise serenading the ballroom bikers in Twin Peaks. “This perfect thing is dying,” mourns Sharin Foo angelically. It’s as delicately broken and sadly pretty as Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love”. Whilst “Evil Seeds” does what it says on the tin. Dramatic, brooding and cinematic, “Play with fire / Play with you sometimes.” Ditto the drum-free “Let Me On Out” with its crashing guitars. “I feel that you have DIED!” It’s not unlike Sonic Youth’s droll deadstar redressing of “Superstar” crossbred with R.E.M.‘s “Let Me In”. A beautiful animal ramming his head repeatedly against the cage door. “Let me on out, let me loose.” Throughout Raven in the Grave, the tag team pass of vocals from Foo to Wagner conjure Plath and Poe lying at the foot of your bed, reading you grimly fiendish lullabies. Get ready for some weird dreams, kids.
The Pop Raveonettes may’ve been sectioned and drip-fed heavy medication, but the swirling ghosts of Summer’s lost are still in there. There’s is still a jukebox 45 life, just now breathing at half-speed and adorned with all the crackles, howls, and hiss of age. “Forget That You’re Young” is pristine pop albeit newly drowsy. A narcotic sweetheart reflecting much of the mournful naivety of the Drums’ debut. It illuminates this frosty winter sky like the Northern lights. Sharin Foo go-go dancing in slo-mo, “Can I fall awake now?” The track which burns the brightest though is the fittingly titled “Ignite”. It kicks like a rebel yell, the leader of the pack. All handclaps, razor hips, passionate kisses, and glows like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart at their most euphoric. It’s speeding at night with one headlight, reckless ‘n’ free with only a half empty bottle in the passenger seat for company. “What if I could die? What if I could make your heart ignite just for a while?” It’s the great escape whose appearance is perfectly timed and provides much needed sunshine and “Fuck-this-world” relief.
...and here come the tears. Yes, the parting gift is appropriately sombre. “My times up and I just don’t care.” The fragile tear-stained last waltz of “My Times Up” finds Wagner & Foo as tragically resplendent as Thelma & Louise driving eternally over that cliff, hand in hand and smiling. Lock this baby behind glass alongside “Asleep” or “Without You” as perfect suicide sisters. “Rejoice, oh young girl in thy youth / Do you wonder what your love could have been?” It’s a fitting and darn heroic way to fly over the edge into the unknown. Clearly, the slim ‘n’ grim Raven in the Grave won’t bag the Raveonettes that star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Even a cursory glance at the tracklist tells you we’re in for a rough ride. This trip is as foot-down, linear as the highway to hell. “Let’s keep going”. There’s no time for sight seeing or stopping off at the station to take a leak and load up on Twinkies.
Like much of the Raveonettes’ apparel, Raven in the Grave‘s dark heart is cut from ‘50s and ‘60s cloth, but this time, it’s not the vintage lineage of Motown and Spector but more the cult ‘death disc’ craze of “Endless Sleep”, “Dead Man’s Curve”, or “The Death of a Surfer”. Basically, any colour so long as it’s black. Someone has clearly stole the sun from their heart. A teardrop explodes as our dynamic duo, once so Pretty in Black, now find themselves making such blue, blue movies. It’s almost enough to cause concern. All the classic signs are here. Not eating. Wearing black. Obsessing about death. Dreaming of escape. Folks, I think they need a buddy or two. Whaddya say we grab some beers, pizza, and a movie (Harold & Maude? Problem Child 2?) and go round after work? Groovy, it’s a date. Now let’s go turn that frown upside down.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.