[8 May 2006]
So get this: in a hop-skip from one pop princess to another, Ryan Cabrera is dating Lisa from The Veronicas. If this is fascinating (or, in fact, if this is old) news, you may be the kind of person for whom the Veronicas’ debut album, The Secret Life of the Veronicas, may be an event to cause some measure of excitement. If that piece of gossip means nothing to you, there’s not much point reading the rest of this review—The Veronicas are likely not your cup of tea.
Lisa Marie and Jessica Louise Origlasso are twins and have the image to match their rising star status. But at 22, aren’t they getting on a bit to be bona fide tween pop stars? Here’s a quick slice of history: before they even had a single, the sisters were picked up by Warner for U.S. distribution, in a deal rumoured to be in the range of $2 million. How did they score that without even a song? The answer is a small Sydney independent, Engine Room Records, which was responsible for doing the same for the Vines; whatever it is, they seem to have the formula down. Well, before we consign them to the same fate, in the interest of judging objectively, let’s take a quick look at some of the songs on Secret Life.
Turns out they’re catchy enough in a way that’s entirely of their time. What I mean by this is: first Avril Lavigne polished punk anthems with a pop sheen, then Kelly Clarkson re-invigorated the most mainstream of mainstream pop with the aggressiveness of electric guitars, and the Veronicas are falling in line, step for step. The opening song and first single, “4ever”, has a strong girl come-on and a chorus that sounds like “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi (almost word for word). “Revolution” is almost a softer Yeah Yeah Yeahs, in the verse, with a confident, half-spoken recitative, turned out all pop-punk in the anthemic chorus “I’m a revolution”. “Leave Me Alone”, “Mouth Shut”, “Heavily Broken”—half the songs on the record fall into this mould of attractively packaged, unremarkable pop.
Sometimes the way these girls sing seems put-on; an accurate imitation of early Britney Spears, but applied to a pop-punk pastiche where it doesn’t belong. It’s most obvious in the verses, as on “When It All Falls Apart”: when someone’s singing “I’m having the day from hell / It wasn’t going so well”, I don’t need the little groaned sex-noise pre-line that Spears perfected on “Hit Me Baby One More Time”. The same problem hinders “Secret”‘s extended introduction—until it turns into a fun punk parody, with a sting in the tail of the chorus “I always thought you were gay”.
The softer ballads, such as “Speechless”, don’t work quite as well as the more upbeat fare; it’s here pop’s blandness (that never-changing sameness that forces us to look to less-worn paths for musical transcendence) really comes through.
Throughout, then, you can hear the influence of Avril, Kelly, and Hillary Duff giving Jess and Lisa the confidence to re-tread the familiar pop-punk sound. But there’s one song that sparks more interest. It’s the last song, “Mother Mother”. Though there’s not much memorable about the syncopated acoustic guitar accompaniment in the verse, the building pre-chorus, or the freak-out chorus, it ends with the words, “I miss you, I love you”. These words, in that context, are supremely sarcastic. And in that final moment, the Veronicas communicate something of that inner life that could make them real, interesting artists. Something of the real secret life of the Veronicas.