We Started Nothing
When Jules De Martino and Katie White emerged from their Salford art-house commune at the death of 2006 with a 20-minute, five-song live set, they stood out brightly from Manchester’s usual colourless lad-rock. Subsequent showcases at the ’80s power-pop parties they organised made it apparent they were attempting a cross-pollination of bohemian trendiness and ringtone-mainstream ambition. The infectious ‘Great DJ’ and ‘That’s Not My Name’ testified it was a trick that could work. Soon after, the major label deal was signed and the NME tour slot booked: The Next Big Things had arrived.
So have The Ting Tings justified the froth-mouthed hype with their debut album? Well, the already familiar songs, including the aforementioned pair, have lost none of their impact. De Martino’s songwriting expertise (he used to pen tunes for George Michael as well as TKO, the unsigned girl group White was in before the two morphed into Manchester trio Dear Eskiimo) is given a shopping mall feel by White’s delighted yelps, like Girls Aloud gone Warhol.
If they could keep the standards as Everest-high as this throughout, we’d be listening to the greatest pile of pop since Madonna’s ‘Immaculate Collection’. And it’s this that makes the drastic plummet in quality between ‘We Started Nothing’’s stand-out treats all the more startling. If you plotted this record track-by-track on a graph, you’d have a diagram spikier than Vlad The Impaler’s back garden. ‘Fruit Machine’, for example, is already a mammoth step down from ‘That’s Not My Name’, being little more than a bendy guitar riff stretched into a song, but the following ‘Traffic Light’ is woeful. A slow, plinky-plonky ditty characterised by childish sound effects, it sounds like something that didn’t quite make the Rugrats Movie soundtrack. Then – woah! – back up again for ‘Shut Up And Let Me Go’, its presence on the new iPod advert not dimming the impact of its shuddering Jackson Five bassline. Then – screech! – another huge dip for the irritating pogo beeps of ‘Keep Your Head’. Then up, up, up again, with ‘Impacilla Carpisung’’s sassy electronic swishes, delighting so much they could happily nestle in a Gorillaz nest unnoticed. Up, down, up, down… it tarnishes the band’s undeniable quality, like unwittingly swigging a mug of cold instant coffee while still panting after the best sex of your life.
De Martino and White are on an unashamed mission to make perfect pop, but seem to have treaded the path too literally. Like Kylie, Leona et al they’ve made an album with searing melodic highs but dumped Xeroxed efforts in the troughs between them. They’ve never suggested releasing an album was more of a priority than a necessity, but their volcano-hot songs have been toiled over at the expense of true depth. Still, ‘We Started Nothing’? Not at all – this is the beginning of something wonderful. There’s just lots more to do.