Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 98)
Some songs are sold on the strength of their guitar part. Some are sold with their vocal melodies. Others, strong hooks or arrangements or atmosphere or any combination thereof. But how many songs are made off the very sound of the snare drum? Yet that’s what makes Ladytron’s mighty 2005 effort The Witching Hour
’s opening track “High Rise” so damn galvanizing. A snare drum tone that could have been lifted from Joey Jordison’s steel trash can work with Slipknot or Lars Ulrich’s arual headache of a tone on Metallica’s “St. Anger” but properly mixed. Granted, the snare drum isn’t carrying the entire song. Helen Marnie’s authoritative vocals, a gnarly bassline, and various screaming guitars and synths are a big help but look up any number of live versions of “High Rise” and it just doesn’t work with a puny normal snare sound. That snare drum is vengeance itself returning from beyond the steel to wreak terrible havoc and it sets an impossible bar for Ladytron’s electroclash opus to hurdle over…
...which it immediately does on second track “Destroy Everything You Touch”. By a significant gap Ladytron’s most popular song, “Destroy Everything You Touch”’s sheer brilliance is how it lets you ride the wave of its empirical confidence while never letting you forget the cold tip of the knife at your back. “You only have to look behind you at whose undermined you,” sweetly reminds Marnie as the band burst the scenery into flames at their fingertips. It’s a mammoth sound, one so huge that Ladytron don’t try to replicate even once throughout the rest of The Witching Hour
. If everything else on the album was as good as its opening duo it would be the runaway album of the year. As is, The Witching Hour
is still a clutch of wintery pop tunes spackled with low key highlights post-”Destroy Everything You Touch”.
“International Dateline” is the most immediate of these, gleaming like the pure white walls of an empty Manhattan penthouse where tension soaks through the drywall from the couple fighting next door. “Unconscious as we cross/The international dateline/Let's end it here,” goes the chorus. It doesn’t sound like the end of a romantic relationship though, but the termination of a business one, with Marnie’s voice as solid as marble all the way through. “Sugar” sports a very weird(ly infectious) neighbor’s request as a refrain (“If i give you sugar will you give me something elusive and temporary?”) while “Beauty 2” actually approaches vulnerability in the coda of “Hey can I go with you when the rendezvous’ over?”. “All the Way” closes The Witching Hour
with grand finality and very gratifyingly includes lyrics about the falling snow that the whole album seems to take place in.
The Witching Hour
is the album equivilant of a David Fincher movie, all clean lines and carefully controlled tension. Despite being Ladytron’s most accomplished statement to date it peaked at a lowly 82 on the album chart with “Destroy Everything You Touch” missing the top 40 by two spots. Unlike most electroclash bands, Ladytron deserved better and haven’t gotten much of a better reception since (2011’s Gravity the Seducer
peaked at 72 so… victory?). Still, The Witching Hour
remains an enchanting listen, the perfect record for scheming on friends and enemies alike.