In 1918, as WWII was drawing to a close and America was helping to pick up the pieces of a torn Europe, four Polish immigrants began a small filming company on the now famous Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. With a country on the verge of becoming a world superpower, and the roaring twenties just round the corner, they couldn’t have picked a better time. That small studio evolved into what would become a superpower in its own right – Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc, maker of Scooby Doo, The Matrix Trilogy, the Batman movies, and the Loony Tunes. Bugs Bunny and has crew were not the only tunes playing with hearts of the masses worldwide however, and it seemed that music was just as good for making the big bucks: Black Sabbath, Frank Sinatra, R.E.M, Seal and the Chili Peppers are just some of the big names that have been on the company roster at one point or another: And now, dear reader, the Veronicas. The who-wha? True, The Veronicas don’t quite hold a candle to some great mainstream artists that have graced the Warner label, but to look at The Secret Life Of…
is a study in the power of the music industry as well as the surprisingly good music of the Australian bubblegum pop rock duo Lisa and Jessica Origliasso.
If The Secret Life Of…
hadn’t been one of the most successful marketing ventures of the last few years, advertisers world wide would quite simply commit ritual suicide. The album has gone triple platinum (more than seventy thousand units sold), spent over three months on the top ten on their native Australian charts, and peaked at number ninety on the US Billboard Pop 100. For a country whose biggest exports have been the single song that AC/DC ever wrote and kangaroos for zoos worldwide, this ain’t no mean feat. The Warner fellows must have creamed their pants when they realized what The Veronicas had the potential to do – Here was a pair of young, MTV styled hot looking identical twins called The Veronicas (Can you get much more girly and sweet sounding than that?) who even have the bonus advantage of being able to write their own songs
and sing. And it worked. The whole twins thing captured the entire tween market (being the closest thing to the faded starlets Mary-Kate and Ashley), while their image of the alt-punk lifestyle and relentless touring captured the heart of the entire MTV generation – the company itself having them featured on TRL as soon as they arrived in the states. The marketing reflects this too, with their photo shoots ranging from the girls wearing their puffy polka-dotted dresses and holding hands all the way to the wild party girls that are featured on the When It All Falls Apart
video. With an album cover featuring grungy punk stylings with the obligatory black and white squares topped of with those oh-so-cute lipstick stains, it’s hard to go wrong – these girls had the best markets Warner could possibly find working with them.
This isn’t just a dig at the music industry however; on the contrary, it’s been getting better ever since people began to lose interest in the Nirvana inspired blandness of the late 90’s. Aguilera’s voice is better than ever, Coldplay and Radiohead are getting major airtime, even shows like American Idol have some emphasis on talent and while they’re a few mishaps, say, Paris Hilton’s new album and the dipsy Ashlee and Jessica Simpson, I think mainstream music is become a lot more exciting and listenable, especially in terms of songwriting and song structure. And The Veronicas in a way, are a part of this new shift. True, they’re marketed; just take a look at some of the big hit makers that have taken part with the creation of the album: Billy Steinberg (Madonna), Clif Magness (Avril Lavigne), Max Martin (Britney Spears) and Dr. Luke (Kelly Clarkson). But the twins do take part in their own songwriting.
Besides their obvious potential as commercial products, Warner singed them on the strength of their self-written EP. Furthermore, the twins have written songs T.A.T.u and Australian Idol winners Casey Donovan and Kate DeAraugo (who admittedly, dropped off the face of the Earth, much like Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino). Furthermore, apart from three songs on the album (One including a Tracy Bonham cover), at least one of the twins is credited for each of the songs on The Secret Life Of…
That said, more than forty songs were written for this album, and only twelve were chosen. And true to from, one of the attraction points of The Veronicas is that they write really, really good pop songs.
The Secret Life Of… is classic hit making stuff. The Veronicas followed the time honored adage of placing the most powerful songs on the first three tracks. 4Eva
, Everything I’m Not
and When It All Falls Apart
are pure, unadulterated pop. Catchy, head-bopping, fun, stay in your head for hours sorta tunes. But it’s clear that while this is conventional pop music, the songwriting here is somehow a notch above the rest, like it was actually written for a reason other than to purely sell records. There’s suitable variety on each song so as not to allow it get caught up in the boring verse-chorus-verse-chorus stuff that so commonly heard on the radio. 4Eva, the first radio single, begins with a pumping guitar twang before screaming straight into a cymbal bashing, bass thumping chorus, and while the rest of the song follows a similar suite, there are subtle vocal harmonies, breakdowns, and varying instrumentation that help not only keep a listener’s attention, but to have them asking “right, so who are these guys again?”.
Don’t get me wrong though, the vocals of Jess and Lisa aren’t mind bogglingly great, and happen to sound like every other American teenage girl with a good singing voice and some range. There are some parts that display some pretty good vocal talent, namely Speechless
and Mother Mother
, but for the most part, it’s your candy wrapped accessible stuff. But there’s the hook, it sounds so… typical and teenage that everyone and anyone can take it… and sing along with it. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to tell one twin’s voice from the other. In a funny sort of way, their bland voices prove to be an attraction. Again though, it comes back down to the strength of the songwriting on the album that helps to carry it forward. When It All Falls Apart, for example, has got a chorus that comes straight out of the head crabs from the Half-Life series, digging its claws into you and sucking you dry. So much so that I imposed a ban on the song in my presence anytime my sister was listening to The Veronicas. It’s the sort of song that you can predict what it’s going do next because it’s so dammed typical, the ones you start singing along to even though you’ve never heard the song in your life.
Lyrically, it’s a page straight out of the same handbook that advised Blink 182: There a dash of fun, a dash of break-up balladry, and some flirtatious “I know you wanna be together, I wanna spend the night with you, yeah-eah”. The album’s fifth tack, Secret
even had these cheeky lyrics in them:
“You could write a million letters everyday confessing to me
That I am the girl of your dreams
But nobody ever asked me
I never looked at you that way
'Cause I always thought you were gay”
Again, it’s this broad palate of musical paint that’s pulled straight out of every pop album written in the last then years, but again, all carried upon the sheer strength of songwriting and instrumentation. That said, the backing band is great – distinctive and memorable, and leave you waiting for parts to be replayed again on second listening. There’s slightly more than just typical power chords, basic rock beats and bass root notes, but rather, above-average variation with different fills and licks. Littered sparsely throughout the album are hints of effects and added sounds too, just for kicks.
Though the album starts off with some upbeat, fast-paced, in your face songs, the second half of the album takes it down the usual softer-balladry type songs, and with titles like Leave Me Alone
, Heavily Broken
and Nobody Wins
, it doesn’t take Einstein to guess what you’re in for. That isn’t saying that the’re bad songs – Speechless
, for example, is probably one of the best on the album. The girls get credit however for picking Tracy Bonham’s [b]Mother Mother[b] as the album closer. Mother Mother is not
your typical pop-fare. It’s arguably the
best song on the album - hard rockin’, different and somewhat experimental in the context of the rest of the album. My only real complaint with it is that it ends too soon.
So really, The Secret Life Of…
is exactly as you’d expect it to be, except a little better. To put things in perspective, not one song on this album features on my playlist, but that don’t make it a bad album – I’m just not into this sort of music. Sure, some songs are good, just as others are bland. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say any of the songs on this album are actually bad
. For a pop album, a genre usually full of filler, that’s quite an achievement. The Veronicas debut album certainly have created a standout, albeit minor one, among the pop community, and so long as the Warner execs keep their work up, I’m betting the girls have some pretty decent staying power within the mainstream.