[26 October 2009]
There may not be a question mark at the end of the title of the Ettes’ third full-length album, but it’s becoming increasingly likely that this Nashville-by-way-of-London/NYC/LA-garage, two-gals-and-a-guy trio will soon be in a position to offer some of their excess mojo to those that they deem worthy.
It’s been a whirlwind year for the band (guitarist/singer Coco, bassist/lone dude Jem, and drummer Poni): their sophomore disc, 2008’s Look at Life Again Soon, made a late run on the Collective Critical Consciousness, landing on a few key best-of lists, and with its charming garage-pop-meets-girl-group vibe, it’s not hard to understand why. This year, they’ve already released the Dan Auerbach-produced Danger Is EP, and now are teaming up with another brilliant choice for a producer, the Reigning Sound’s Greg Cartwright for Do You Want Power. Seriously, who gets these two guys to produce your records in one calendar year? It helps that the Ettes have recently toured with both the Black Keys and the Reigning Sound, but still, to get the imprimatur of both of these members of the garage rock elite is proof that the Ettes are doing something right.
Have I mentioned yet that Cartwright is a fantastic choice of producer for the band? Given his work with both his own bands (the Oblivians, Reigning Sound, Compulsive Gamblers) and key females, both garage-y (the Detroit Cobras) and girl-group-y (he helmed Shangri-La frontwoman Mary Weiss’s 2007 solo debut, Dangerous Game), he’s a natural to twirl the knobs for the Ettes. But our intrepid threesome are more than the sum of Cartwright’s musical embarrassment of riches.
Do You Want Power finds the band stretching their metaphorical wings—sonically and emotionally. Some moments work better than others, but for a genre where there’s no shame in releasing nearly identical 30-minute long albums year after year (and no shortage of bands who do so), the Ettes realize that Album Number Three is put-up-or-shut-up time, and prove they’re in it for the long haul. Cartwright and the band successfully tinker with the blueprint of nicking old Stones riffs (although there’s still plenty of those welcome sounds here), tossing in some old-school country on “Love Lies Bleeding” and taking a stab at Wilco-esque krautrock on “Blood Red Blood” and the synthed-up “Modern Game”.
Even if the band’s sound is a little different, sexual gamesmanship is still their leitmotif. After the sinister, slow-cooking opener “Red in Tooth and Claw”, comes the classic (yes, the Ettes now have a “classic” sound) one-two punch of “I Can’t Stay True” and “So Say So”, with Coco asserting a sexual confidence so beguiling one can only imagine the mile-long line of jilted lovers behind her, men who knew what they were getting into, but couldn’t resist her siren song. Plus, you can totally shake your ass to the songs, especially “I Can’t Stay True”. She then charges a lover by the hour on “I Can Be Your Lover (But I Can’t Be Your Baby)”, but isn’t always the vamp: witness the spare, vulnerable ballad “While Your Girl’s Away”, where she pleads “I don’t need to own you / I just want to hold you”, and the closing tearjerker “Keep Me in Flowers”, about a couple on the verge of a relationship withering away into nothing—they’re the most grown-up the Ettes have yet been.
Do I prefer the straight-up rockers and the Coco-as-vixen songs? Yes, but taken as a whole, Do You Want Power represents a growth I secretly hoped for in the band but never expected to see so soon. Phase Two of the Ettes’ plan to take over the universe has been implemented ahead of schedule.