Chain Gang of Love (2003) – 4 stars
Pretty in Black (2005) – 2 stars
Lust, Lust, Lust (2008) – 5 stars
In and Out of Control (2009) – 4 stars
Formed in Copenhagen, of all places, the boy-girl duo The Raveonettes re-envisions rock and roll’s past into one endlessly entertaining vision of the present. Named after the Buddy Holly song “Rave On,” guitarist Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo combine distorted washes of guitar sounds with stellar melodies, a concoction that’s a lot of The Jesus and Mary Chain, a little My Bloody Valentine, a little girl-group pop, and a hell of a lot of fun.
JAMC’s debut album Psychocandy is all over Chain Gang of Love, but that hardly makes the Raves’ version a boring retread. The album is, however, noisy, tuneful, and vivacious—everything that has come to define them. The opening bars of “Remember” sound like pure MBV- or Lush-inspired shoegaze, but other tracks, like “That Great Love Sound” and “Heartbreak Stroll,” sizzle with reverb and distortion that keep up with breakneck melodies. It doesn’t get much sexier than Wagner singing “Get it all straight / ‘Cause you’re whistle-bait / Come on, baby, right now” over the chiming guitars and runaway-train pace of “Heartbreak”; or winking, “Let’s rave on ‘cause I know that you want it / Let’s make out ‘cause I know that you want it” on “Let’s Rave On.”
After such a promising beginning, Pretty in Black provokes just one question: What the hell happened? For reasons passing understanding, the band turns it back on what it does best; gone are the heavy reverb, the dense washes of sound, the layers of guitar coating sugary melodies. Somehow, in the search to write a pure pop album—lacking the white-noise guitar parts that would, apparently, turn off the masses—they forget how to be catchy, and this, combined with the vanishing guitars, leaves them with bland, acoustic-heavy songs possessing nary a hint of the grand beauty that defines the rest of their work.
A couple songs (“Sleepwalking,” “Ode to L.A.”) almost break free, almost hit that level of majesty, but you can hear the contradictions within the band, hear them too concerned with playing it safe. The former starts off well, the line “Think you look good today / Pretty in black, you got it down“ married to that warm, cavernous bass and piquant guitar, but then, frustratingly, it pulls back. Similarly, “Ode” thinks about digging in, before sticking with a forgettable chorus and Ronnie Spector (of the Ronettes) providing out-of-place backing vocals.
Newcomers to the band should essentially forget about Pretty in Black (though while noting its wonderful title, which describes a lot of what the Raves are all about) and move on to the career-defining Lust, Lust, Lust. Exceptionally produced, Lust takes the formula of Chain Gang to new heights, with even sharper melodies, more meaningful lyrics, and sweeter washes of sound. Full of dark and dirty undertones, especially in the lyrics, it’s still exceedingly colorful, with pristine melodies floating above druggy distortion and those thick riffs. The guitar climaxes of “Hallucinations,” “Blitzed,” and “Blush” match up with anything written by their influences.
“Dead Sound” combines self- and partner-loathing lyrics (“And now you go through a million girls and try to pick what’s right / When nightfall comes and you’re still alone, do you feel it deep inside?”) with a beat so insistent and absorbing that it compelled multiple critics to write that the song was “anything but” its title. “The Beat Dies” re-writes JAMC’s “Something’s Wrong” with a Slowdive-amount of lie-back-and-dream beauty; but, amidst all this excellence, it’s the incomparable “Blush” that supersedes everything else they’ve done, before or since.
Given the arrows pointed at unworthy partners throughout the album, it may actually be the hated perpetrator being channeled in the rather arrogant chorus, “I can’t keep you / I can’t hold you down / I can’t love you still… / But I can still make you blush.” The band phrases this question by way of the devastatingly cruel line “All I want from you is all I took,” before launching into the coda with their prettiest, Explosions in the Sky-esque guitar melody sliding in and out of that infinitely warm backing guitar. A perfect song.
2009’s In and Out of Control proves, thankfully, that the Raves aren’t going anywhere near Pretty in Black again. Though not quite so noisy (or flawless) as Lust, Lust, Lust, it’s nevertheless another winning effort, wherein the best songs—”Bang!”, “Last Dance,” “Suicide”—sound romantic and glorious. The production is a tad looser than on Lust (occasional oddities like glockenspiels and fewer oceanic washes of sound) and the songs aren’t quite as consistently excellent, but—despite a preponderance of amateurish song titles—they’re just as dramatic. The Raves kick down the doors with the devilishly inviting opening line “Bang! You’re so vicious baby” and maintain that level of visceral excitement throughout.
On Lust, a song called “Suicide” might have been morbidly depressing, but here, they demonstrate the capability to get past their wounds; “Run, run, run away, little girl / Get your fun in this trashy world / Empty-hearted boys by your side/ Lick your lips and fuck suicide,” sings Foo over an irresistibly lilting haze. “Wine” approaches “The Beat Dies” for album-closing, sleepy quietude, but the real winner is “Last Dance,” a joyous, unashamedly sentimental paean to simplicity. As long as it doesn’t refer to themselves.