[28 September 2009]
The Noisettes are raving hot in Britain, and the British/American popular music dichotomy plays a significant role in how to approach them, hitting the Top of the Pops back home but playing tiny venues across the States.
So here, we have the Noisettes appealing to the trendsetters; just like Astralwerks pulls EMI’s international pop stars and pitches them to people in the States as “indie”, Universal has on their hands a band that seems a premade—and likely permanent – VH1 Band to Watch.
After an album’s worth of middling blues-rock a la the Dirtbombs (less punk) or the White Stripes (less personality) and dates with TV on the Radio and Tom Vek, the Noisettes return in a shinier, more accessible guise. Instead of scruff garage-rock we’ve got R&B influenced gloss-rock; TV on the Radio has been replaced by Lady Gaga.
That isn’t meant to imply that the band is inherently less good – we gave The Fame a 7 just last year and I’d rather hear “Just Dance” for the 150th time than anything off of Dear Science for the third. No, the reason Wild Young Hearts isn’t much of an improvement over its predecessor is that the band’s mediocre songwriting doesn’t sound any better with a high budget (hasn’t shitgaze taught us anything?).
It’s not that their tunes are flat-out awful – “Saturday Night” has a wonderfully bouncy chorus propelled by a pounding rhythm section – it’s just how transient that enjoyment is. During the authenticity-obsessed days of indie rock (a decidedly American movement), US pop music was in the same state: immediately catchy, glossy, and forgettable. Since then, though, there’s a reason the indie world has picked up on popular music: albums like FutureSex/LoveSounds are actually good front to back, and most every pop smash of the past ten years is still worth listening to in a nostalgia-free kind of way.
It’s worth noting just how American this album sounds, though. Bringing frontwoman Shingai Shoniwa’s vocals up in the mix highlights how much she sounds like classic soul/R&B songstresses, and cuts like album opener (and rare highlight) “Wild Young Hearts” are built around girl group harmonies and bouncy handclaps. Hot single “Don’t Upset the Rhythm”, on the other hand, filters their R&B through a modern-day disco that forgets that the Rapture ever happened. It’s like asking a contemporary Briton to make real “American” (i.e. not Beatles/Stones/Bowie/T. Rex/etc.-derived) music and missing the key element that has allowed American pop music to see the alliance of critical and popular success that it has seen these past few years.
Listening to this album right now as I write this, I feel bad about how hard I’ve been on it: the musicians are capable, it sounds fine, the songs aren’t bad by any means. But none of those descriptions are exactly praise – only one or two songs stand out in my mind when I’m not actively listening to the album, but active listening doesn’t give back the kind rewards that we expect from the non-pop records that usually require it. Hey, I’ve heard their live show is fun.