Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Candy with a dark center

The Raveonettes
In and Out of Control
Score: 8

With a surfeit of pop hooks and a greater emphasis on the chorus, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo have wrought a compulsively listenable album. On the surface, In and Out of Control breezes along, all lightness and brevity and fuh-fuh-fun. But the candy coating encases some heavy subjects. Gang rape, suicide and domestic violence feature, along with The Raveonettes' staple, drugs. How they sing about these things makes all the difference.

In the most striking juxtaposition, "Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)," Wagner and Foo and overlay their vocals and stagger them, somewhere between an echo and a call-and-response pattern. They start the song with the chorus (the entirety of which appears in the song title), then go verse 1, chorus, abbreviated verse 1, chorus, instrumental bridge, and they repeat the chorus while fading in an a cappella version of it whose stuttering is more bubblegum than doo wop. The song's lyrics are bleak, with a girl forever haunted by rape, but by putting it in the mold of a catchy, happier song, The Raveonettes are accomplishing a few things: They're making sure the song's message gets heard and they're increasing the likelihood of it sinking in through repeated plays. And the multiple vocal tracks of Sharin Foo could be seen as representing feminine solidarity, almost like a support group.

That sympathetic tone appears again on "Suicide," which follows a "little runaway girl" whose life at work and at home has left her desperate to escape. The verse goes from one receding strum of surf guitar to a full-blast chorus of pounding snare, multiple electric guitars, bass and layered vocals, personifying the girl bolting out the door.

But the sympathy ends in "Break Up Girls!" Marrying squalling guitar carnage to an orgasm of distortion, the album's penultimate track introduces itself with two minutes of breakneck terror, before easing into the lyrics. Targeting "bunny girls" and the men who abuse them, Foo and Wagner implore the ladies to LEAVE. "Break up, girls," they urge, "You might like it."

Still, is there a wrinkle of hypocrisy on In and Out of Control? Or perhaps songwriters with slightly different stands on rough trade? Wagner, who wrote "Break Up Girls!," claims, "Sadistic girls, I don't get you" (even though he obviously means masochistic), yet in opening track "Bang!," co-written with producer Thomas Troelsen, he says, "Bang! When you whip me, baby / Bang! When I scream now, baby / Bang! You know I love it all the time."

Of course, the album would function just as well if lyrics were changed. "D.R.U.G.S.," which Foo and Wagner spell out in the eighth track, gets its wings from the incursions of reverbed uh-oooh-wha-uhts and ooo-wooing.

This food for thought doubles as dessert.


Josh Langhoff said...

I need to hear this album. I keep hearing "Bang!" on the radio and it's great. They're cheeky, yes?

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