Review Summary: With Crossing The Rubicon, the Sounds have continued to establish themselves as merely lesser copies of their idols.
Even almost thirty years later, new wave imitation remains the sincerest form of flattery. Every time I hear an up-and-coming band mimicking the sounds of that glorious ‘80s heyday of synthtastic pop, buoyed by lyrics of forlorn romance and bubbly keyboards, it’s more often than not a reminder of just how much better the original John Hughes soundtracks were. Sure, there’s bands that do it remarkably well; just check out M83’s last magnum opus for a treatise on how to give the ‘80s a proper homage. Then there are bands like Sweden’s the Sounds, fronted by an icy blonde from the Great White North with definite sex appeal and a band with all the requisite amount of hipness. Their debut ’03 album Living in America was a standard slice of faded jean indie rock that garnered them the appropriate amount of blogosphere hype, and its follow-up was marginally better but added few tricks to the band’s rather small bag of tricks.
It should come as little surprise, then, that the Sounds have generally refused to change things up on their third effort, the misleadingly titled Crossing The Rubicon. A point of no return? A definitive artistic statement that they will forever be known for? Rubicon is hardly either of these, although I suppose it’s hard to think of the Sounds without thinking of the completely average tales of love and loss they put on display here. Opener “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake” is an acceptable lead single, riding a catchy guitar riff and a background of shiny synthesizers behind vocalist Maja Ivarsson’s charismatic vocals. Even better is the syncopated power chords of “4 Songs & A Fight,” with an ascending chorus and another powerful performance by Ivarsson, who is easily the highlight of this band’s show.
After these two post-punk gems that make up with genuinely addictive hooks what they lack in originality, the Sounds drag out the synths to the front of the stage for the ridiculously cheesy sounding “My Lover” which belies its relentlessly cheery music with lyrics about what seems like domestic abuse. The Blonde impersonations get even worse on the embarrassing “Beatbox,” where Ivarsson does her best/worst “Rapture” imitation, with lyrics like “tried to move my feet up and down / but the DJ sucked I’m stuck to the ground” and “tell me do you feel it?” Sadly, I didn’t.
Indeed, Rubicon largely succeeds on the performance of their lead singer. When the lyrics are lackluster or saccharine, like on “Lost In Love” (“I believe in this fire burning inside of me”) or when the music is unforgivably generic new wave, like the bland “Home Is Where The Heart Is” or the mushy, over-produced “Midnight Sun,” no amount of Ivarsson’s distinctive pipes can make a difference. Occasionally, they even make it worse, something I first noticed on “4 Songs & A Fight” but even more so on a disaster like “Underground” – with her accent and teen romance subject matter, Ivarsson (I swear to God) reminds me of Miley Cyrus. Sometimes it’s almost uncanny.
When the Sounds do strike the right note in between slavish ‘80s devotion and modern indie rock, they craft some beautiful tunes. But the pluses, like the haunting title track and the epic “Dorchester Hotel,” are few and far between. By the time one slogs through the unnecessary closing instrumental, remarkable only for its utter lack of climax, it’s easy to forget what made new wave great. It’s possible to flatter so much that a band loses their own identity, and with Crossing The Rubicon, the Sounds have continued to establish themselves as merely lesser copies of their idols.