PRETTY IN BLACK
The Raveonettes are back with their third release Pretty in Black, a collection of love songs whose sound would be very much at home on a David Lynch film soundtrack. Sahrin Foo’s vocals have a haunting ethereal aspect like Lynch collaborator, singer Julee Cruise, especially on “Sleepwalking.” Also, the music is striking in its combination of originality and familiarity, similar to the way Lynch takes American life and presents it through his skewed vision. The band splices together many genres, taking bits of ‘50s and ‘60s pop from the girl groups of Phil Spector along with the distinctly anti-pop guitar noise of The Velvet Underground and creates something modern.
On their first two albums, The Raveonettes created songs with a great deal of fuzz and distortion much like another influence, The Jesus and Mary Chain, who used a similar musical blueprint twenty years earlier. However, for Pretty in Black they have lost most of those effects to expand their musical palette. They have also removed their self-imposed restrictions of keys and time.
The songs on Pretty in Black have an amazing ability to vividly conjure up moods and time periods within seconds. The opening track “The Heavens” is augmented by the faint crackle that accompanies a needle playing on an old phonograph. Sune Rose Wagner wrote this acoustic country ballad as if he was doing so for Elvis Presley. “Seductress of Bums” sounds like a ‘50s prom slow dance except for the suggestive lyrics. Wagner’s lilting guitar is offset by the music of the chorus, which sounds like a music box. The surf guitar on “Love In A Trashcan,” especially the solo, makes it the perfect for those who wish to frug at the next beach blanket party. The harmonizing on “Here Comes Mary” sounds like a lost Everly Brothers track.
Music and artists from other decades influence their work as well. A cover of “My Boyfriend’s Back,” which was co-written by co-producer Richard Gootehrer, is sung by Foo and has strange drum machine effects that make it sound like art/music projects of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s while everyone was learning what the technology could do. “Twilight” is Wagner’s attempt to create “the Cramps in the future” with this “lustful, seedy story of debauchery and decadence.” The tandem vocals on the rockabilly tune “Somewhere in Texas” brings to mind the singing team of Exene and John Doe of X and the tandem guitars, acoustic and electric, on “Uncertain Times” is reminiscent of Love and Rockets from their Express album.
The Ravonettes invited a few of their idols to join them in the creation of this album. Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker performs on four tracks, including “Red Tan.” It is fantastic to hear Ronnie Spector sing at the end of “Ode to L.A.” She still sounds great and it is stunning to learn that she hasn’t recorded anything since an EP in 1999. It’s hard to believe producers are looking for new talent while Ronnie is still around. Lastly, Martin Rev, keyboardist from proto-punk duo Suicide, joined them on three tracks.
Pretty In Black closes out by returning to where the album began with another country ballad, “If I Was Young.” This time a steel pedal guitar joins the arrangement. After the song fades out, you can hear what would be the skipping of the needle as it moves to the center of the record.
This is a fantastic album that never forgets its roots as it heads to new places. A virtual encyclopedia of music for those curious enough to dig deeper, yet at no time is it too cerebral or off-putting for those who want to just enjoy the music without thinking about it.