Music

Bettie Serveert: Pharmacy of Love

Bettie Serveert got over the 1990s. It's time that the Dutch band's critics and fans did, too.


Bettie Serveert

Pharmacy of Love

Label: Second Motion
US Release Date: 2010-03-23
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon
iTunes

Bettie Serveert's new album Pharmacy of Love probably isn't going to get its due for what it is: a solid, consistent album that sounds like the all-out rock recording the Dutch indie veterans have wanted to make all along. Whoever came up with the bright idea to hype Bettie Serveert as the next big thing in the early '90s did them a disservice, since overblown expectations and misperceptions of the group were set with its evergreen debut, Palomine. As revisionist history would have it, either the band is a punching bag for everything that went wrong with the pre-Internet alt-rock feeding frenzy or they're tragically misunderstood and underappreciated. Unable to ever completely escape the shadow cast by the strong first impression it made, Bettie Serveert turned from most-likely-to-succeed into could-have-beens, then somehow became underrated along the way.

The band itself hardly seems weighed down by either history or baggage on Pharmacy of Love, the worthwhile product of an unexpectedly durable and workmanlike career. Wherever critics and fans come down on the new album, everyone should be able to agree that it's a return to form in the artistic direction it takes, finding original members Carol van Dyk, Peter Visser, and Herman Bunskoeke recovering their rock attitude. Beyond just regaining its footing or rediscovering a formula that worked well once, the group comes off the most confident and determined it has ever been, after spotty forays into more "mature" and atmospheric sounds for much of the last decade.

Frontloaded with its three strongest songs at the top of the tracklist, Pharmacy of Love shows off a bolder, louder, more direct approach right from the get-go. Hard-hitting numbers like the opener "Deny All" and "Love Lee" make instant impacts, but it's the second track "Semaphore" where everything really comes together, as van Dyk's ragged but sweet vocals convey the band's tough and vulnerable sides at once. Starting with an earworm of a riff that works its way through the song, "Semaphore" is a roaring power-pop gem that's a little grungy, a little twangy, and tastefully glam, as Visser, a genuine guitar hero, channels Dinosaur Jr. channeling Crazy Horse.

The clearer production and cleaner lines don't always work to Bettie Serveert's advantage, particularly because the band has nowhere to hide its sometimes awkward lyrics. While the band could get away with the charm of van Dyk's foreign-language-speaker vocals on earlier efforts like Palomine, when they reflected the same sense of earnest tentativeness that the plaintive music evoked, the Betties' ESL-isms here seem incongruous with the arena-rock sound that Pharmacy of Love is shooting for. The wordplay on even the standout songs can be too clever by half, as the punny titles of "Deny All" and "Love Lee" suggest. A change of pace where one isn't needed, the mid-tempo "Change4Me" brings its maudlin lyrics too much to the fore, stringing together hackneyed lines that only seem to be clichés, like "If you don't love yourself / Then how can someone else".

For the most part, though, Bettie Serveert ends up on the right side of the line they straddle between being sincerely poignant and generically trite, whether you're talking about the band's musical vernacular or even its lyrical content. If you're not in a rush to make a snap judgment, Pharmacy of Love is one of those albums that'll grow on you. Van Dyk herself describes the attitude one should take to Pharmacy of Love in a moment of straightforward clarity after unconvincingly riffing off the title of "Love Lee": "Please, don't be cynical with me". Bettie Serveert got over the 1990s, so maybe we should too.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image