Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Lust, Caution

Another album review as we gear up for the big music blow-out on our April 12 show. This time it's ...

Lust Lust Lust -- The Raveonettes (p. Sune Rose Wagner)

Sex? Meet Death. Death? This is Sex. Or are you two already acquainted?

The new disc by The Raveonettes, Lust Lust Lust, makes no bones about just what makes bones (both kinds). The Danish duo have a suburban American goth kid's obsession with joining love and mortality in unholy matrimony. Fortunately for us listeners, they also have a sense of humor and a love for bubblegum music and 60s girl-group sounds that keep the gloomy enterprise from turning into a (Marilyn) Manson-esque bore.

Make no mistake, though, this ain't a jaunty romp through a sun-dappled meadow; more like a furtive skulk through the graveyard. Writer/producer/most-everything-elser Sune Rose Wagner sets the second track, "Hallucinations," "In this tomb I call love," and the sex-death paradigm doesn't let up for the rest of the record.

It may then seem odd that such dark material should evoke the Wall of Sound Phil Spector productions of the 60s, but many of those numbers had a morbid sensibility to them, as well. Remember the fatal motorcycle crash at the culmination of "Leader of the Pack?"

Wagner's partner in this droomy enterprise is Sharin Foo -- now we know who Dave Grohl has been fighting all these years! -- and she comes off as a kind of cold-eyed Mary Weiss, delivering homicidal lines like "The beauty of our love is dead," with the cruel efficiency of a serial killer. Or Ronnie Spector's robot doppelganger.

Often Foo and Wagner share the vocal, their harmonies creating a blurred effect. The graphics on the cover of Lust Lust Lust ape the look of vintage 3-D and the singing has that same kind of double-vision blear to it.

Meanwhile, despite all the fuzztone and reverb and feedback that drench these tracks, they are at their core classic bubblegum soul, complete with propulsive riffs and hollow handclaps. The Raveonettes sound has been compared to that of The Jesus and Mary Chain (fuzzy buzzy guitars atop classic pop song constructions) and the comparison is apt. Like the Chain, Foo and Wagner can get a lot of mileage out of a drone, then gleefully drop in a Ventures-inspired guitar lick when you least expect it.

The sinewy strut of "Aly, Walk With Me" opens the album with an appropriate amount of menace and forboding. When Wagner breaks the song down with a slashing multi-tracked solo, it sounds like all the graves in the cemetary are emptying at once.

Even in a straightforward proposition like "You Want the Candy," the darkness intrudes. Foo hungers for "Black Lollipops; come on gimme a dirty treat." And later she and Wagner each inform the other that "I plowed my way through hell for a sweet, sweet love attack." It's a command, not a request.

The album falters here and there. "Expelled From Love" wants to be as menacing as "Aly," but only manages to go thud. And the drone gets a little too drony on "Lust."

Still, with Fender shotgun in hand, The Raveonettes make this marriage of Sex and Death work remarkably well. Can't wait to see who the kids take after.

3 1/2 stars.

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