The Raveonettes are getting better. They still sound devilishly good.
The Raveonettes, the duo of Danes who now call New York and LA home, haven’t let their time in the US influence their sonic palette too noticeably over the past few years. Still, 2005’s Pretty in Black seems an age away. It’s not even that the group’s changed its '50s-meets-New Wave sound that much; just maybe, in between listening to all those dance-punk acts, we forgot how much fun scuzzy rock can be.
So, then, they’re back. Still channeling their Jesus and Mary Chain impressions and '50s rockabilly-noir aesthetic, the Raveonettes’ third album, Lust Lust Lust, is also, in a way, a return. Not to the style-over-substance, throw-away material of the first album, but at least to the surging distortion, the sweetly overlaid surf rock echoes, and some of the harmonies of their earlier work. Two of the things made most of in past reviews of the group -- that the group self-imposed a single key for their debut LP, and that they rapidly expanded scope on the second disc -- somehow no longer seem so vital. There’s only one song on Lust Lust Lust that’s under three minutes, just like Pretty in Black. But this time, it’s not just an expansion of ambition, it’s better-quality songwriting all round. Choruses rise expertly out of the texture of a verse; compositional flourishes (bursts of noise, suddenly-clearing atmospheres) never seem completely out of place, but give songs a nice sense of freshness. Sure, the Raveonettes are never going to be hailed as indie rock innovators, exactly, but as time goes on they’re getting more and more assured, and it’s a pleasure to hear.
But as we know by now, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo never trade in straight homage. Taken to its logical extreme, the Raveonettes’ sound could become an ultra-hip '50s-Western version of the nostalgia peddled by the Go! Team. But you’ll be surprised by the longing in all of this. It’s not just sexy love-in-a-trashcan, or even blitzed/lust/black satin as the song titles hint at. “Lust”, for example, is essentially regretful, marked by the realization that though the song gives the album its title, that’s not all life should be. These songs are sad in a Kevin Shields kind of way, in a Chromatics kind of way, in a Soundtrack-to-Lost In Translation kind of way.
But it’s not all downbeat, depressed stuff. “'Aly, Walk With Me” opens Lust Lust Lust with a dirty funk pulse and a gorgeous, addictive repetition. The squall of guitars midway-through is surprisingly powerful, even at this early stage in the album. There’s even a moment, in “Hallucinations”, of treble-guitar elation (still neatly undercut by the group’s signature fuzz).
Things dip a bit in the middle of the disc, with the formulaic “Blush” and a loping, hedging “Expelled From Love”. The trouble with both songs is that their emotion is clouded by the affect, by the fuzzy guitars and the echoing vocals that seem to be only half there. Most of the time, this is hardly a problem; and soon enough things are righted brilliantly, with “You Want the Candy”, an upbeat and catchy bubblegum pop number with hints of girl-band and subtle electronic effects.
The return to a self-produced, self-recorded sound may partly be financially motivated -- the big Sony deal for the last album may not have garnered the great sales early buzz promised -- but on the other hand, this record now feels undeniably fresh. And somehow in the process, a lot more like what the Raveonettes will be remembered for. Their sound has been filtered through the experience of bigger-name producers and guest spots and radio ballads, but the emotions here are (in the large majority of songs) as genuine as the first notes the group played together. Definitely worth a listen, even if you thought you had the group pegged in the past.