In 2004, the Von Bondies earned themselves a slot in Rykodisc’s eventual Grandchildren of Nuggets box set of post-millennial garage rock with the undeniable “C’mon C’mon” off their breakthrough-bid Pawn Shoppe Heart (the tune also earned them a fat stack of royalty checks from FX’s Rescue Me and ESPN), then quickly slid off the cultural radar, with most people remembering frontman Jason Stollsteimer as The Dude Jack White Beat Up for Talking Shit. Pawn Shoppe Heart has its admirers (this writer included), but even the closest devotees of Motor City garage had to be surprised when the Winter 2009 album release charts noted “Von Bondies - Love, Hate and Then There’s You (Majordomo) - 3 February 2009”.
The irony (?) is that during this lengthy hiatus very little has changed in the modern rock world: the continuum still runs from the classicist White Stripes to the (for better or worse) forward-looking Killers, and all the Von Bondies have done is align themselves less with Jack and Meg and more with Brandon Flowers and co. Or think of it this way: these Detroiters have moved from ‘60s Britrock apers to ‘80s Britrock apers in a mere five years.
Perhaps that’s a tad cruel, but to their credit, what the Von Bondies lack in originality, they make up for in style. With the fuzzbox effects gone (as well as guitarist Marcie Bolen and bassist Carrie Smith, replaced by Christy Hunt and Leann Banks, respectively), songs like opener “This Is Our Perfect Crime” and “Pale Bride” shine like obsidian. Meanwhile, the insistent “21st Birthday” belies its bright riff and (brief) muscular solo with its dark subject matter (“You’re never gonna live to see your 21st birthday”). Plenty of other characters do grow up, though, in what amounts to the album’s chief theme (that, and messy relationships, as evinced by the album title and cover artwork). “Chancer” assure that “you don’t look so cool / but you look so alive” and it’s obvious that the band that once boasted “I’m not that social / just a good drinker” has reprioritized their lives. That line and “Earthquake”‘s “This is no earthquake honey / you just get older” serve as Love, Hate…‘s co-mantras.
That said, the album is hardly a forlorn treatise on mortality. “She’s Dead to Me” shows that Stollsteimer stills keeps White Stripes’ albums in occasional rotation (and with that tune and “Blame Game”‘s nursery-rhyme boy-girl vibe, the Kills are an obvious reference point, too). And while it doesn’t grab the throat the way “C’mon C’mon” still does, the power-poppy “I Don’t Wanna” still proves the Von Bondies more than capable of churning out winning alternate universe hits… a half-decade at a time. Here’s hoping Love, Hate and Then There’s You serves as a cobweb-loosener for Stollsteimer and they’re back before 2014.