I love reading badly written band bios. Built with the grandiosity of Gothic churches, their weighty sentences are so often embedded with a series of unintentional critiques. Ladytron’s website claims: “In pop folklore, bands were allowed three LPs to become themselves, yet the fabled third album is an increasing rarity in this low attention span epoch. So it comes as a bit of a rare treat that to find that Liverpool-based boy/girl four-piece Ladytron have reached this mythical milestone….”
What next, a cure for AIDS? Though I can’t say that Ladytron’s third release, The Witching Hour, ranks up there with stealing fire from the Gods, I do have to admit that, for a band that was never much more than a kitschy aftertaste, three is a magic number. When I first heard “Took Her to a Movie” on a Bertrand Burgalat compilation, I loved the ennui, the candy-dish stickiness of its rhythms, the Bananarama tonelessness. It was one of the first signs that an up-and-coming art-school crowd would soon revise the history of the ‘80s and restore an artistic legacy left so stained by MTV and George Michael’s frosted hair.
I should be up front about the fact that I’ve never been excited about watching Ladytron as much as curious as to whether or not they’re able to bring live intensity to music that often sounds cold and thin on record. Unfortunately, this event was mostly a public amplification of the band’s artistic weaknesses. I just don’t think Ladytron has a lot of good material to work with. For every grasp at the tea-cozied anthem (“Seventeen”, “Playgirl”, “Destroy Everything You Touch”), there are handfuls of other songs (“All The Way” and “Ladybird”) that dissolve into vaporous whispers and the kind of thin beat that makes a heart monitor sound like a timpani.
For that reason especially, the choice of venue couldn’t have been less flattering. I’ve never liked a show at the big mini-amphitheater of Stubb’s BBQ. Its uneven dirt floor and bumper-to-bumper capacity creates the sense of watching television that one gets from huge, big-budget musical productions. But, unbeknownst to me, Ladytron have become too big for the dank, cornered club spaces that would have lent their performance the generosity of scummy intimacy.
Watching Ladytron perform from a critic’s perspective is like drawing fruit when you have no interest in becoming a painter. It won’t improve your technical abilities, nor will it interest you (unless you have time-lapse vision and can watch the apple, lifeless object that it is, rot into maggots). This is the kindest way to say that Ladytron’s charisma draws flies. They did their best to convert the songs into something with an imprint, but in the end all that meant was that every number hit the same high synth crescendo—a club-disco squeal that sounded to me like a cello played with razor wire. I know the band fancies a much more interesting pedigree—the fashionista resurrection of the Human League—but there’s no primitive punch or power here, just cheesecloth layers of disintegrating drone.
There’s also the fact that, from the beginning, Ladytron have cultivated a style of “being cool” that’s thoroughly detached from what you do and other people’s reactions to it. Why not just play the record through the soundsystem while sitting around in a circle meticulously emory boarding one another’s nails? Sure, we were treated to a few huge stage flashes and a wall of equidistant light bulbs that oscillated as if someone were simply testing different sections of a high school’s football scoreboard, but that did nothing to distract me from the band’s performative torpor. Even the pictures of ponies and various abstracted images stood in accusatory contrast to the band. Mira Aroyo does have a lovely phone voice, but that’s all it is. Every single song gets drawn down in the sort of depressed “sexiness” one expects to get from red-light district women forced to shimmy between fixes in the fuck-store window.
I don’t mean for this review to sound like target practice; it’s just that the older I get, the more I’m inclined to say, “Don’t waste your time or mine.” My greatest regret is that I missed the feisty free-for-all of Cansei Der Sexy, a band that could not be more energetically opposite or stylistically unpreened from Ladytron.
It dawned on me, seeing Ladytron live, that they don’t do much, and I’m a little too jaded to be sucked in by a band that looks like they were invented by DWELL magazine. But, then, I’ve never been cool enough to be the retro-futuristic mod version of the perfect, undulating mannequins in “Simply Irresistible,” so to those who had a good time, I salute you.