Review Summary: Dying to stay relevant.
Who are the Sounds? Rhetorical question: the Sounds don’t even know who they are. The Swedish quintet have always been a bit derivative, to put it kindly: 2002’s Living in America
and its two follow-ups faithfully updated the new wave/post-punk sound that virtually every other up and coming band was doing in the new millennium. Luckily, the Sounds had Maja Ivarsson, an icy blonde who injected some verve into the band’s rapidly tiring formula. She could only do so much, however; 2009’s Crossing the Rubicon
was a stale product that would have sounded hip in 2004. Now we have Something To Die For
and first single “Better Off Dead,” which has the Sounds veering off into an entirely new dance direction, one that Ivarsson’s vocals and personality are well suited for. “Better Off Dead” is a strange song coming from the Sounds, drum machine claps and electro synths framing a sparse piano line and Ivarsson’s Debbie Harry on Ecstasy vocals. But it’s something much of Crossing the Rubicon
was not, namely catchy and, well, intriguing. It’s unfortunate the rest of the album comes off as the work of a band failing at reinventing themselves.
The problem with Something To Die For
is that it’s an album built to succeed on the strength of its hooks and not its songwriting. With lyrics like “there’s no time to regret / I’m laying naked on my bed / I’m better off dead,” you better have some monster hooks. “Better Off Dead” does. So does “The No No Song,” idiotic song title aside (there’s also a song called “Yeah Yeah Yeah” here. Even the Sounds’ song titles are conflicted). “Diana,” too, and that also happens to be the best song on the record. It’s the Sounds doing what they do best, sharp, incisive guitar pop with a new wave bent and a killer chorus that Ivarsson sells strong. It’s a shame, because when the Sounds are dicking around with dance the result is more often than not embarrassing. “Dance With The Devil” has a beat that sounds like a Ke$ha reject and vapid lyrics to match. “It’s So Easy” builds and builds and goes nowhere. “Something To Die For;” “Won’t Let Them Tear Us Apart;” “The Best of Me;” they’re all just merely serviceable, and when you have a new indie/dance/blog-ready band around the corner ready to do the same and charge less for their show, maybe you should just go back to what you know best.
Something To Die For
ends with “Wish You Were Here,” a wisp of a ballad with just Ivarsson and a guitar. It’s charming, if a little insubstantial, but Ivarsson has always been the heart of the Sounds and their saving grace, keeping them around when dozens of clones have long failed. Without all the studio effects and faux electro beats, it’s nice to see there’s still that talent there, although she has some work to do if she wants to make good on her desire to be “the best female vocalist [this century].” Maybe it’s time for a Maja Ivarsson solo record? I’d like to dream, but this isn’t the mid ‘90s, and female singer-songwriters are just so passé