The Raveonettes: Whip It On

[13 March 2003]

By Devon Powers

The Raveonettes are sneaky little devils, aren’t they? How dare these wily Danes cause such a stir with their debut Whip It On, just over 20 minutes of agitated twitters and joyful noise! How dare they record eight songs in a single key! How dare they, ambiguous relationship and all, black-and-white-and-red theme and all, play the dark Euro counterpart for the White Stripes! It’s shameful, I tell you, the epitome of shameful shame! For shame, for shame, for god-forsaken shame!

Unless you’ve taken a handful of downers or are mourning the loss of a close friend, from its very first moments the mysterious chemistry of Whip It On will enthrall you. How can it not? The tricks that I’ve already mentioned are nestled within in a shadowy, surf-garage-y kitsch, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo droning on angular harmonies, parallel lines that seems as though they should meet but never do. Beyond this razzle-dazzle, the Raveonettes are an adorable little duo. He’s a brooding looker with a mass of pomaded black swarming anti-gravitationally from his head; she’s a doe-eyed doll-faced sweet pea, undoubtedly more than a little rough around the edges. Right down to the cunning CD packaging, right down to the campy cinematic allusions, right down to the warning, or invitation, to listen to the thing in “explosive stereo”—the entire operation bubbles over with magic.

Watch a magic trick enough times, though, and you’re bound to find the catch—the trap door that the lovely assistant disappears through, or the secret pocket up the sleeve from whence all the colorful hankies emerge. In the case of the Raveonettes, what undermines their overall appeal are the very gimmicks that at first capture your attention. Beneath it all is an album that betrays its bland uniformity after just a few listens; a collection that for all its appearances of excitement, is actually more than a little boring. Perhaps that speaks to the album’s minute length. After all, whipping it on is easy—keeping it up, in such a limited range, proves a whole lot harder.

That said, practically any song off Whip It On functions in its own right. The opener, “Attack of the Ghost Riders”, cranks it up immediately. Sparse and stealthly, the fuzzed-out post-punk guitar upstrokes and noisy drums twinge electrically as Wagner and Foo ooze over the lyrics. They sing, “with the ghost riders on the go/ I think you know” and then you do: the sound swells to a bombastic volume, their sassy punk charging determinedly onward. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to hoola-hoop and smoke a cigar at the same time, or see what would happen to Gidget if she were running from the law.

Trouble is, a nearly identical description would suffice for track two, “Veronica Fever”. Or the next one. Or, err . . . you get the picture. Sure, “Veronica Fever” is a more of a slow burn than an flare, Foo’s vocals suspended in gritty air while Wagner’s hover at ground level, cautiously surveying the terrain. “Do You Believe Her” is the speed-freak single, a hot injection that blasts you on a rocketing high. Or is that “Cops On Our Tail”? That song motors, too, the lyrics matching the pace of the chasing instruments. In fact, of the whole disc, the wobbly swagger of “Bowels of the Beast” stands out most definitively; otherwise, it’s hard to justify giving the entire album a proper listen.

I can think of plenty of things—like a TV show theme song, or an overexposed midriff, or an awful resurrection of faux feminist girl power in a talentless 18-year-old package—that are worse foundations for a music career than the Raveonettes notably clever gimmick. And once the gig is up, it becomes obvious that, tricks aside, there’s actually a glint of fire in their bellies. Still, a good album is not forged by a collection of songs which are good only insofar as they all replicate one another. What the Raveonettes need to do is venture into more diverse terrain. I’ll be waiting there for them to sneak up on me.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/raveonettes-whip/