Review Summary: Ladytron arrives with a time capsule, labeled "1985".
Somewhere around 1987 and up through the turn of the new millennium, the style and flavor of popular music began to shift away from the technology that had just a few years earlier given life to a new and exciting, synthetic sound. For those who lived through and enjoyed the black and white checkered, wild-haired, neon spandex era, not much would happen thereafter to satisfy the craving for tooth-ache inducing synth-pop; The kind of music that made the 80's seem like a fun time to live through. MTV, an early catalyst in helping to start the 80's new wave movement, started playing more serious videos by artists who often took themselves too seriously, regardless of their affinity for silver spandex and mascara. Or denim everything. It would be a long, dark twelve years, as new wavers would sit and wait for their music to return. There would be a Depeche Mode offering here and there. Nine Inch Nails did a lot of fine work, and The Cure still had some of their best left in them – but otherwise, new wave was dead and gone, seemingly never to return.
In 2001, Ladytron released 604
- A synth-driven, new wave record released 13 years after the genre's last boat set sail. Ladytron's debut serves as a reminder of how music sounded 15 years earlier; Only now with upgrades and gloss. 604
doesn't just replicate the architects of it's sound - it challenges and rivals them.
The album opens up with the strongest and first of several instrumental tracks. “Mu-Tron”
is carried by a low, fluctuating synthline that nearly speaks it's melody as it makes its way across the song. Is this 1985? Because it sounds awesome. About as quickly as you'd tire of filling yourself with candy, "Mu-Tron"
draws itself to a slow, crashing end - where we are met with unfamiliar Bulgarian statements or demands. It only gets better on this one. "Discotraxx"
introduces us to the worldly ladies of Ladytron, Mira Aroya (Sofia, Bulgaria) and Helen Marnie (Glasgow, Scotland). The two share vocal duties (just not always evenly). Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu (both Liverpool, England) make up the other half of the group. "Discotraxx"
, like the opening "Mu-Tron"
, is carried by a low, thick, bouncy synthline, only now accompanied by the airy Scottish vocal of Helen Marni. The lyrics are fun and playful, dealing with the locals and their sex lives. “I know her, used to follow everywhere we'd go. And it's so sweet, now she's sleeping with a boy I know.”
The vocal delivery over the moving synth progression makes the song an incredibly fun listen, and it's the first song to introduce the kind of quality and catchy material the band showed up with. Mira Aroyo's extended Bulgarian verses during the breakdown put the song over the top and justify employing a non-English speaking, non-singing vocalist. She was also a model. And has a PhD in genetics. I wouldn't kick her out of the band.
“Another Breakfast With You”
is a three-minute hook of a song, starting with the opening synth and on through to the last beep. The electronics are complimented by the strongest, most appealing verse and chorus melodies on the album. This track makes the album worth admission. “I didn't feel a thing when you told me that, you didn't feel a thing when I told you that...”
It sounds too eighties to be happening, but it's happening.
Suddenly, it's time for a break. “Cska Sofia”
is a slow, two and a half minutes of background music along with what sound like ear exam pitch test noises. Needless to say, this isn't the best track on the album. I suspect the Bulgarian one had a hand in it. “The Way That I Found You”
gets back to the earlier, big synth-pop single sound, only this one lacks what made the earlier tracks glitter and shine. “Paco”
brings Mira back to give sing-speak department store directions. Not the most awesome track. 604
goes off-course for a good stretch and doesn't quite get back on track until it reaches it's only single.
focuses on a circling, chorus-sounding verse that seems to go on forever. The name of the song does not make itself a mystery anywhere in the three-plus minutes, save for the rad synth-solo. It has the sound of a legitimate single, but doesn't quite represent the best of what Ladytron can do. “I'm With The Pilots”
does. Proving herself a useful vocal once again (now singing in English), Mira Aroyo takes the controls, delivering her strongest effort on the record. Aroyo's lyrics are accented by a distant, haunting overdub of Helen singing all the words Mira just spoke. A subdued, dark and venomous track, “I'm With The Pilots”
is probably the overlooked gem of the album.
maintains an above-average consistency throughout the six remaining tracks. “This Is Our Sound”, “He Took Her To A Movie”, “Ladybird”
, and “Jet Age”
all have a lot to offer, if the first half of the album appealed to you. None of them, however, surpass the high quality of the early tracks.
Ladytron's debut opened up a fresh pack of 1985 and reopened the door for everyone to dust off the old moog and drum machine. It's not too late to plug in and program some really great music. This album set the platform for the sound Ladytron would build on. They've continued to write great, retro-sounding electropop on even stronger records, but not since their debut have they found the '85 sound like they did in their early stage. They've since only been hitting '86 and '87. 604
was straight '85.