The rise of The Ting Tings in 2008 seemed to be built around a simple premise: incessant hooks. The way Katie White sang the chorus to ‘That’s Not My Name’ was half school yard taunt, half ringtone repeatable. You couldn’t get it out of your head if you tried.
The album that followed (‘We Started Nothing’) was filled with examples of this formula at play. ‘Great DJ’, ‘We Walk’ and ‘Shut Up And Let Me Go’ all repeated the trick of building a track around a riff or vocal line. We wondered where they could go to next.
The answer was… to Berlin, where they planned to release a second album called ‘Kunst’ in 2010. These plans were scrapped after single ‘Hands’ failed to set the charts alight. So we heard nothing more until now, with 2012 deemed the right time for ‘Sounds From Nowheresville’. So what’s it like?
Things start off hymnal. An atmospheric synth line creeps along with a sparse guitar figure, as a load of multi tracked Katies repeat the mantra of: “Hold your tongue now / And let them all / Listen to your silence,” (perhaps a comment on the four year gap between albums). Mid-way through there’s a change of direction. The drums take on a stadium rock quality as they pound like machine guns and a lilt of bell-like 80s keyboards plays over the top, signalling the return of the duo. It sounds like they’ve been soaking up some Krautrock influences too. However, a underplayed vocal from Katie leaves the overall effect as more “unsure” than “triumphant”.
‘Hit Me Down Sonny’
A low slung hip hop beat, a Chic-style guitar, bells straight from Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ and Katie rapping about Speedy Gonzales. It’s like Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’ meets Cher Lloyd’s ‘Swagger Jagger’. It comes off like the natural successor to ‘That’s Not My Name’, but lacking the freshness of that track. “Did you ever think you’d see me like this?” Katie sings before the break down of rudimentary drum and guitar solos. Not only does it feels like we’ve been here before, there’s a high “cringe factor”.
The duo continue where the previous song left off. Here they seem to trying to be channel ‘Licensed To Ill’ era Beastie Boys, rapping over a guitar riff straight from an 80s hair metal band – think Def Leppard. There’s an unironic cowbell lurking in the mix too. Katie’s rap dominates, which is the problem. Her flow is entirely unbelievable; she just sounds too vanilla to strike this rebellious pose. As she deliver lines about “punk rock“, “pot” and “living like a hoodie“, you call to mind David Cameron telling the world to “hug a hoodie.” It’s all a bit toe-curlingly embarrassing.
A spindly guitar figure meets some breathy “ahaa ahhaa“s, and the vibe they’re going for is all Joshua Tree, leather jackets and motorcycle outlaws. The music flows like a cross between The Kills ‘Sour Cherry’, ‘My Sharona’ and New Young Pony Club’s ‘Lost A Girl’. Again there’s an issue with the delivery. Jules does his best Stars In Their Eyes Johnny Rotten before Katie bows in. “Give me back / gimme back my high five,” they sing, as they inhabit the personas of Bonnie And Clyde (via Jamie ‘N’ Alison). It’s better than the rapping, but still unconvincing. They sound like outlaws living on the edge of a Nike deal.
Another genre experiment. This starts off like a 60s girl group ballad, with Katie telling the tale of doomed romance (“There was this boy who came to town / Was cooler than all the boys in all my crazy dreams,”) in the voice of Mary Weiss (via Salford) over a sparse guitar figure and some “Oooh” backing vocals. The chorus finds a cowbell crashing against against slamming guitar sound as Katie gets worked up about the romance gone awry (“This time I’m going get it right!” she sings). It’s a fun pastiche.
This album has more left turns that you can shake a stick at. ‘Soul Killing’ finds the duo going ska. Which, as dodgy as that may sound, actually works quite well. The strange rocking chair sound, the sampled brass, the falsetto on the chorus (Katie chiming “Soul killing / might as well shoot me down,”) and the second chorus (“They could never hold us down“) are all layered together, making this the most sonically interesting track so far.
Minimal, electro and chiming, Katie and Jules sound totally at ease here. It’s what you’d imagine ‘Kunst’ would have sounded like. The nursery rhyme melody is simple yet effective. It’s a shame that a whole album like this was abandonded, as it seems like a more natural progression from where ‘We Started Nothing’ was going.
This digitalised acoustic ballad has the sunny air of a mid-90s track to it. With its slight touches of R’N’B, it recalls a pre-reinvention Robyn in her kiddie popstar days. Katie delivers her vocal about an ex-acquaintance (“you could have been a good friend of mine,”) eyeing the Beyonce trick of fitting more words in the verses than one would expect. It works. As the strings swoop in, this slight but effective ballad does, like the couple of previous tracks, suggest the direction the band should have gone in instead of the limp rap one.
A delicately plucked guitar as Katie whispers (“can you…help?“) before the drums and strings come in. With a thick, synth sound and a multi-tracked vocal it sounds tribal and experimental, calling to mind The Dream Academy’s ‘Life In A Northern Town’. “We are dead if we can’t live without / don’t want to think about it,” she sings as the track breaks into its broader second half. It’s rousing but doesn’t quite go anywhere.
A string section and acoustic guitar lead this ‘end of album’ track by the nose. It’s all shadowy atmospherics and displaced anger (“In my life, you wasted time“, Katie sings). Again she sounds like she’s inhabiting the role of an regretful victim than actually conveying any real emotional depth. The violin sounds more angsty than her.
Sounding less like a cohesive album and more like 10 songs randomly thrown together, the Ting Tings will find it hard to claw back their original audience with their second album. Where, we wonder, can they go from here?