Review Summary: Parked beside the ocean on our moonlight drive.
At this point, you pretty much know what you’re going to get with a new Raveonettes record, and, in turn, a Raveonettes review. An obligatory the Jesus and Mary Chain reference. Black-and-white publicity photo reflecting the iciness of the band’s Danish home and something faintly edgy, Sune Rose Wagner’s black contrasting with Sharin Foo’s platinum. Lyrics about sex and death, preferably together, shading a picture that straddles the line between blissful pop harmonies and gothic drug-chic, the perfect soundtrack to a romantic waterfront dinner and then dumping the body afterwards (sample album titles: Raven in the Grave
, Chain Gang of Love
, Pretty in Black
). Foo’s candied voice playing off of Wagner, hinting at the innate major-chord sunniness at the root of the Raveonettes’ sound but warped, of course, by the production. Guitars and effects, stomp boxes and distortion and a liberal amount of feedback layered one on top of the other until the end result is as fuzzy as a shag rug. Observator
already comes with a built-in angle, a convenient bone Wagner has thrown in interviews: a lot of listening to the Doors, dealing with depression, a need to escape the party scene. It was recorded not in the Los Angeles of beaches and baking boulevards but the one that incubated a sick son of a bitch like Jim Morrison, and when it rained it never poured but just drizzled on for hours. Authentic!
sounds like a Raveonettes record. Occasionally Wagner will mix things up, like erasing the drums on “Young and Cold” and making up for it with that droning ache the band has mastered. Foo has never sounded better than when she soars crystalline over the mix on “The Enemy,” a step outside her regular comfort zone and all the better for it. It’s a step up from last year’s Raven in the Grave
, which hijacked the band’s usually unassailable sense of cool and loaded it down with eyeliner and an album cover that would have fit in nicely on a Hot Topic t-shirt; predictably, the (dreary, faded) sound suffered. Observator
takes the same path that Raven in the Grave
attempted to traverse and improves on things mightily. This is music to sing along to with your friends while overdosing on heroin. There are a lot of bands that worship the Velvet Underground and the aforementioned JAMC but few do it so convincingly as the Raveonettes, a finely honed, unerringly erratic waveform the result of a decade of work and six studio albums. “She Owns The Streets” is pretty much the quintessential Raveonettes song, distilling everything that’s great about them; basically, the juxtaposition of a essentially bright, essentially ‘60s pop-influenced melody with lyrics that aren’t what they initially seem covered by a prickly layer of instruments that clang and roar. Few bands have chipped away to the core ideal of their sound as methodically as the Raveonettes.
Where 2007’s Lust Lust Lust
was probably the album that best approximated their live sound (an earsplitting shotgun blast of wonderfully unhinged white noise) as well as their general ethos, and 2009’s In and Out of Control
sharpened their songwriting to virtual power-pop levels, Observator
is just simply here. It’s a righting of the ship back to the quality control we’ve come to expect from the Raveonettes but nevertheless still an accomplished retread of a formula, nothing more. It’s reassuring and comfortable and totally content with itself, and like that pitiful Angeleno rain it barely leaves a trace when it’s done. “Till The End” would like things to go out with a bang, charging out of the gate with a galvanizing drumbeat and Wagner’s rebel yell, but it’s too little and it’s too late. It’s hard to get excited after a day spent inside, the sky gray and the blinds drawn and the TV showing nothing but static.