Bettie Serveert have steadily been releasing albums since 1992’s Palomine but have never gotten their chance to really shine, unless you count a few cover songs showing up in various network shows and indie movies. Perhaps it’s enough that a Dutch indie rock band could make an international ripple, no matter how small. Bettie Serveert are better than most indie rock bands of any nationality, however, and their tenth release, Oh, Mayhem!, is more energetic and surprising than indie rock releases by many bands half lead singer Carol Van Dijk’s age.
Earlier Bettie Serveert albums could be camped alongside releases by Throwing Muses, Juliana Hatfield, Liz Phair, Teenage Fanclub, and maybe even Dinosaur Jr. with no stretch of the imagination. 2010’s Pharmacy of Love put Bettie Serveert in the same field as the Wedding Present as far as long-running bands who continue to put out releases full of pure vigor go. Oh, Mayhem! follows a similar path, but it isn’t merely a rehash of its predecessor. Pop hooks in ‘60s style are dirtied up all over the place, sure, but a bit of room is also left for bluesy interludes and more bluesy influences.
Things start off on a familiar note, however, with the raucous and hooky “Shake-Her”. “Mayhem” starts in a fairly ordinary way as well, but its chorus—which is reminiscent of earlier PJ Harvey—makes the song an early stand out. “Sad Dog” does the quiet to loud thing but the noise blasts issuing from Peter Visser’s guitar are thrilling enough that the song doesn’t come across as just another vehicle for a well-worn indie rock tactic. The poppy and seemingly light-hearted “Had2Byou” takes an oft-used love song trope and turns it on its head. Despite being Oh, Mayhem!’s shortest song at two minutes and 20 seconds, it both serves as an album highlight and proves that Van Dijk’s lyrics can still leave a cynical aftertaste when they want to.
“Tuf Skin”—the album’s halfway point—and “Monogamous” incorporate Oh, Mayhem!’s bluesier, moodier moments, with the former posing as a strong note on which to end Act I and the latter beginning as potential filler but bringing enough sizzle to ensure it really isn’t. Although the remaining four songs aren’t devoid of strong moments—”Receiver” and “D.I.Y.” stand out as much as the album’s opening tracks—the remainder of Oh, Mayhem lacks the staying power of its first half.
Even though Bettie Serveert’s sound seems will likely continue to be largely rooted in an indie rock sound that’s very specific to a certain time, the healthy amount of verve brought to their recordings—not to mention significant songwriting skills—is enough to guarantee newer releases like Oh, Mayhem! won’t easily date themselves. It may be too late for Bettie Serveert to ever garner the acclaim they deserve, but Oh, Mayhem! is more than worthy of a listen by the band’s fans as well as any fan of the genre. At this point, even compelling a few dozen people to dig out Dust Bunnies is something.
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