Fabber Than Abba?
If you don’t like t.A.T.u, you don’t like pop music. Simple as that. Straight outta Eurovision-East, t.A.T.u are the Abba for the new millennium. Following a split from svengali Ivan Shapovalov and a hype-confounding pregnancy, the t.A.T.u girls have regrouped and taken control of their own destiny, and now they’re back with a collection of songs bigger, brighter and better than their Western debut, 200km/h in the Wrong Lane.
Rare flowers blooming from the rancid dustbins of modern pop, a contemporary Agnetha and Frida with no need for ugly geek muso husband sidekicks, Lena Katina and new mother Yulya Volkova have actually out-punched Abba so far. The Swedes’ debut album had just two halfway decent songs and made no sort of international impression. 200km/h boasted two of the very best pop moments of the 21st century: the irresistible strained rush of “All The Things She Said” and the bunker-busting cover of “How Soon Is Now”. And if Abba’s second release took things up a notch with three good songs, Dangerous And Moving is still decidedly fabber than Abba.
You don’t believe me? Just check out the new single, “All About Us”. Yes, in many ways, it’s “All The Things She Said - Part Dva”. But so what? It packs more amateur operatics, more rock and more intelligent pop into a little under three minutes than Queen could shoehorn into the entirety of “Bohemian Rhapsody”; and it’s by no means the best song on Dangerous and Moving. And if the sub-text is still the relationship between the two girls, then again, so what? Why was their exploitation of the haze surrounding their friendship any worse than Freddie Mercury pretending to be straight? If Joe Strummer could pretend to be working class to create a compelling rock theatre, then why shouldn’t t.A.T.u’s willful provocation be celebrated like the Sex Pistols?
tATuTruFax #1: t.A.T.u comes from a collocation of “ta” and “tu”, two forms of a Russian feminine pronoun, that can be translated as “This female (does something to) that female.” The implication is that “this girl fucks that girl”.
Clearly, t.A.T.u understand that presentation and exploitation are intrinsic parts of their craft, but they also know it’s easier to sell the truth. Lena Katina has said t.A.T.u have been essentially honest with their audience, attempting to express elements of a long lasting friendship that’s been confused, difficult and ripe with sexual tension; and I see no reason not to believe her. Although in the context of modern pop music, the truth is supremely irrelevant, Dangerous and Moving seems very much an exploration of a friendship under stress. In the helter skelter “Loves Me Not”, Yulya Volkova confesses “I complicated our lives by falling in love with him ... now I’m losing my only friend”. In the gentle “Gomenasai” (from an abbreviated form of the Japanese phrase meaning “I’m sorry”) she pleads, “I never needed a friend like I do now”.
tATuTruFax #2: Tatu was the codename Che Guevara used during his time as a guerilla in the Congo.
Subversive pop firestarters in Armani Exchange hoodies, t.A.T.u do pop like Drew Barrymore does cute—with effortless beauty, wit and personality. At times, their singing suggests Madonna circa Like a Prayer and, like the Equestrian Girl herself in her time, they’re pretty much a perfect pop package; yet they also offer a deconstruction of the form that’s pure punk rock at heart. Live, t.A.T.u shine with a shy playful glee, urging us to join their club. On video, they deliver drama, scandal and nightmare images of urban collapse. On Dangerous and Moving, they bring us alien-sweet, broken helium-honey harmonies besieged by vibrant pulsing instrumentation and classically theatrical pop dynamics. Sweeping Russian symphonies in electro-punk pop tempered with quieter episodes of quite bewitching delicacy.
tATuTruFax #3: When Beijing was the capital of the Great Mongolian Yuan Empire in the 13th and 14th centuries, it was known as Daidu, or Tatu.
Western pop luminaries such as Trevor Horn, Sting, Dave Stewart and even Richard Carpenter have all contributed to the making of Dangerous and Moving, but it’s still an essentially Eastern work. Even Horn’s impeccable “Craving (I Only Want What I Can’t Have)” is a perfect Billboard moment seen through the glass of a Russian Standard vodka bottle darkly, and sung quite beautifully by Lena and Yulya. Partially, of course, it’s the accents. Exotic voices singing in English have a special appeal. The phrasing is less glib, so the emotions seem more sincere, which perhaps explains why Agnetha and Frida got away with singing so much Euro-nonsense for so long. But there is something more here. Perhaps, at heart, t.A.T.u simply represent the tensions between their Russian traditions and the Western pop culture that brought down the Berlin Wall.
Whatever, t.A.T.u still sound best when they sing in their native tongue. Sadly, Dangerous and Moving has only one example of the otherworldly beauty and soul of their Russian language work. Happily, “Obizienka Nol” is magnificent. An electro-epic “Kashmir”, it makes the very most of the different textures and emotions offered by Lena and Yulya’s quite distinct vocal ranges and it touches places most pop music couldn’t find with a map and GPS.