February 24, 2012
The Ting Tings - 'Sounds From Nowheresville'
A lukewarm hotchpotch of an album
5 / 10
Most bands are haunted by a fear of failure, unable to tell if they are climbing a mountain or falling down the other side. But having bonded over rejection from the music biz in the first place, The Ting Tings are crippled by a fear of success. The way they tell it, the long, long gestation period of this second set left them unsure of their identity. What was left to write about once they’d taken ‘That’s Not My Name’ to Number One?
And so the blustering starts. They’d rather vomit on their shoes than make another hit. They’d rather create a smokescreen of saturated cool and hide their collywobbles behind it, just to teach everyone a lesson. “We went to Berlin and built our own studio in an old jazz club,” they hoot. “We recorded 11 brilliant songs but the record company liked them so we deleted them!” “We wanted to call the album ‘Kunst’ (withering look) it’s German for ‘art’, ACTUALLY”, and, “It would be so easy just to bash out a cheap hit record, but we’re better than that.”
So the 33-minute ‘Sounds From Nowheresville’ arrives with an almighty chip on its shoulder. Which is a shame, because when The Ting Tings are good, they’re great. ‘Hit Me Down Sonny’ is as louche and rubber-limbed as a Friends song, all marching band oomph and some tubular bells, with an achingly self-aware lyric “I’ll make you a banging headache”. It even ends with a great big drumpocalypse, which, taken alongside the old-skool ‘Hang It Up’ and motorik ‘Give It Back’, serves to prove that their bratty spirit is still good for something beyond putting their fingers in their ears and shrieking “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
Then there’s ‘Guggenheim’, a spoken-word story of cool love with a cool guy and the cool girl that gets in the way. Katie casts herself as a vengeful, victorious ‘proper artist’, sticking it to them by playing in an art gallery. It ends up sounding quite deranged. And after that towering monument of hubris, the wheels start to wobble and the delusions of artistry become harder to square with the noise coming out of the speakers. It’s not that there’s much wrong with the songs themselves, it’s just they are the kind of agreeably unremarkable tracks you’d get on a bashed-out second album.
Given Katie and Jules are being such arses about modern pop music, the inclusion of two songs that would happily grace a Saturdays album (‘Day To Day’, ‘One By One’) is a tough thistle to swallow. ‘Soul Killing’, an amiable Hard-Fi skank unhindered by any point, features the squeak of a chair as percussion. This is the only interesting thing about it. ‘Help’ is a late saving grace: a lightly strummed solstice picnic in Synthhenge, stacking multiple Katies into a sun-tower of ritualistic chanting. It’s the first time that the idea of The Ting Tings making anti-pop music actually seems like a feasible and attractive proposition, and it’s the penultimate song on the album.
Finishing things off with the lament ‘In Your Life’ is interesting, especially as there’s a violently melancholy cello solo, but it’s too little, too late. Were this any other band, you might say all this needed was a couple of astonishing hit singles and it would be cracking. But that would probably just make matters worse, and the round of interviews for album number three would sound even more shrill and defensive. The unfortunate irony is that ‘Sounds From Nowheresville’ doesn’t sound much like a grand rejection of pop music at all. It just sounds a little bereft of ideas, and way too short.
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