Review Summary: 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane has held up surprisingly well.
On the surface, t.A.T.u looks like a vapid industry plant from Russia, insincerely singing about being a couple of runaway lesbians when in reality, they’re frolicking around being heterosexuals and having kids and stuff. And hey, if that’s your position on the dance-pop outfit it’s hard to argue with your sentiments, because these things are, in truth, partially accurate. However, this image was constructed with a lack of transparency at the start of their journey, which probably did more damage to the group’s longevity and authenticity looking back on it. This wasn’t the fault of the duo though, who wanted to make it clear they weren’t lesbians but were out to build a platform for that community. Unfortunately for them at the time, t.A.T.u was being managed by Ivan Shapovalov who wanted to exploit the girls’ artistic integrity for controversy and cheap gimmicks, before getting the boot after this album’s world-dominating infamy and massive success.
It’s a shame really, because one might ponder over what could have been, with the right management behind the wheel during this period, the label could have opted to push a less tacky image aimed at pubescent boys for one that asked for genuine cultural change. Nevertheless, despite their origins, I will die on my sword defending t.A.T.u as being a rare exception when it comes to industry manufacturing. Even in concept, Lena Katina and Julia Volkova had to have the figurative balls on a brass statue to even attempt this concept at the time. Let’s think about this for a minute; t.A.T.u got together a little over twenty years ago in Russia, a country infamously known for its controversial policies over here in the west, but one where homophobia was and still
is very much rife in their culture today. So, imagine being in their shoes back then, when it was far from being unanimously embraced over here as well. Like Spice Girls did for ‘Girl Power’ in the nineties, t.A.T.u were using their platform at the turn of the century to create a beacon of light for the oppressed.
Indeed, despite the aesthetic and execution being oversexualised and somewhat cliché and surface-level thematically, 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane
is a watershed album that, for good or ill, got people talking. For me, as weird as it is thinking back, this was actually the first CD/album I had ever bought; a heterosexual male who didn’t listen to music at all but was, for some reason, compelled to spend his pocket money on an album that sported two pseudo-lesbians sticking it to the hand society had dealt them. I can tell you this much though – it wasn’t because I was in the middle of my own pubescence (which I was) that I was drawn to this school-uniform-sporting duo, no, it was because “All the Things She Said” and “Not Gonna Get Us” were absolute bangers. Listening to this album almost twenty years removed from its release – picking up the RSD vinyl for the nostalgic value it holds – I think it’s held up really well. The album is filled with sharp, infectious hooks and catchy euro-pop electronics that are sure to be stuck in your head for a good while after listening to it. “Not Gonna Get Us”’ undeniably energetic, driving power is testament to the potential these girls once had. A track that has numerous crescendos: exploding with a galloping rhythm that rumbles in the underbelly of the track, while pounding drums and the linchpin dance melody straddles the pent-up aggression, before simmering down to a melancholic piano for the duo to lament and get their composure back before effectively detonating back into what the track opened up with.
In all honesty, it’s this quiet/loud dynamic and the acutely infectious melodies that make 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane
such a joy to listen to, even today. The issue comes from the lack of material here which only consists of seven original tracks, one cover, and Russian-sung versions of the two main singles. Just as the album starts to get going it drags everything to a halt, feeling a little half-baked overall. Still, despite the lack of content, 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane
is still a worthwhile listen. As vocalists, Katina and Volkova lack range, but the songs are succinctly written and sharp-witted enough to prevent any heel dragging. And while the duo lack versatility, they do have a distinction that separates them from their peers and makes them interesting to listen to. 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane
may look elemental by today’s standards, but at the time they were ahead of the curve, and simply based on its sociopolitical foundations (though everything bar the concept of the band overlooks this for primal urges and emotions), this LP deserves its recognition. As an album, it’s filled with solid dance-pop anthems and themes of rebellion and love, all of which I think it does admirably.