Like the nu-noir of Sin City, The Raveonettes’ sound has always been monochromatic, achingly sexy and chock-full of menace. But although the Danish duo couldn’t be faulted on attitude, they never truly delivered on the promise of their dusk-rock image.
So, having missed that initial chance to cement themselves onto the consciousness of the indie nation with 2003’s ‘Chain Gang Of Love’ album, is there any hope for Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo? More importantly, do they deserve a second chance? The answer is, surprisingly, yes on both counts. ‘Pretty In Black’ is an audible sigh of relief, and perhaps something of a nod of recognition, that yes, the previous album, with its rigorous conformity to the rule of B-flat major, was a painfully consistent listen for all concerned. So it’s rather telling that with ‘Pretty In Black’, ladies and gentlemen, The Raveonettes have come clean.
Notably, alongside their decision to comb back the fuzz and scrap their self-imposed chord constraints (you’ll actually hear more than three chords played this time round), Sune has stopped trying his damnedest to sound like Lou Reed, instead following the music, learning to relax and aping the post-coital cooing of co-vocalist Foo instead.
But the spectre of the Velvet Underground is never far away, not least because it features drum work from ex-Velvet Mo Tucker, who rolled into the studio on her 60th birthday to lay down some beats. Other cameos include a spectacular, albeit brief, appearance by Ronnie Spector on stand-out track ‘Ode To LA’, who adds a few spine-tingling “Whoah-oh-oh”s that recall The Ronettes in all their girlie glory and Suicide keyboardist Martin Rev, whose contributions to spectral desert ballad ‘Uncertain Times’ and ‘Here Comes Mary’ are pushed so far back into the mix as to be almost unnoticeable.
It’s an odd sort of freedom The Raveonettes enjoy on ‘Pretty…’ , as if relinquishing their own self-imposed musical restraints has allowed them to pursue their influences more vigorously. But to see ‘Pretty In Black’ as pure retro kitsch pastiche is to miss the point. OK, so there’s a cover of The Angels’ 1963 single ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ (which was written by ‘Pretty…’ co-producer Richard Gottehrer) on here, and admittedly, that doesn’t help the case. Nor does the clearly Everly Brothers-inspired (but no less loveable for it) ‘Here Comes Mary’. But if there’s anything The Raveonettes excel at, it’s their ability to take that kernel of kitsch and grow it into something altogether more modern, as they do on the heart-stopping rockabilly of ‘Sleepwalking’, which features throaty guitar from Sune that harkens back to the reverb-heavy twanging of Cliff Richard’s accomplices The Shadows. ‘Twilight’, the spiritual twin of ‘Sleepwalking’, goes further in its quest to breathe new life into old, marrying a riff that’s almost-but-not-quite The Twilight Zone theme with temple-pounding drum machine, before converging into, oddly, grinding disco at the midpoint. As an opener, ‘The Heavens’ couldn’t be more different from what has come before for The Raveonettes. Laid on a bed of crackling vinyl and supported by some maudlin guitar, it’s Sune’s self-confessed attempt at writing an Elvis song, complete with faked Midwestern twang.
Ironically, for all their songs about trashcan whores and relationship holocaust, there’s a sweetness (the dreamy doo-wop of ‘Seductress Of Bums’ being but one example) that consistently threatens to undermine the ‘Pretty…’ package. Just as their previous fetish for deep distortion and a limited set of chords did, pink-hued noir here can prove to be something of an acquired taste. However, it never sinks into unintentional parody, earning it the acclaim of sounding like nothing else currently out there. ‘Pretty In Black’ is a dusky little gem that, chances are, is destined to be passed over in the marketing boom of ‘Get Behind Me X&Y’. And you’d be a damned fool if you let that happen.