This is how a great rock album should sound. Or a great pop album. Or a great whatever. Katie White and Jules de Martino aka The Ting Tings have come up with something that has the charge of a head-on car crash and the sheer coolness of a Tate Modern exhibit. Unlike much of what goes under the name of 'art rock' - considered, careful and playful - the Ting Tings' second album, Sounds From Nowhere, has absolutely great music that can get a Lady Gaga fan in the same room as an Arcade Fire junkie.
The proceedings start with 'Silence'. With its New Romantics sound and White's poppy vocals, this is a quietish, tempoed out track that breaks into a sudden squall with a synth melody playing like a fluttering piece of plastic. 'Hit me down Sonny' has a martial beat with White almost-rapping like M.I.A. with a thick bass line. It is impossible not to shake your head even as the song's about a violent relationship and that enough is enough. 'Hang it up' has the funk levels up, a phat guitar line that Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers would have been proud to have come up with.
By the time we reach 'Give it back', a full-blown punk track with wings, we're well inside the world of Nowheresville - a frantic zone where there's dolled-up ease covering something vaguely wild and violent. 'Guggenheim', a wicked take on arty fartiness choruses with "This time I'm gonna get it right,/ I'm gonna play my bass at the Guggenheim." A reggae swing joins us in 'Soul killing', which is followed by the New Romantics-style synth-popping track 'One by one'. The gear changes again when the Ting Tings turn their soft R&B plug on that smells of 'top of the chart' from a mile.
'Help' is the weak link in the train of songs in Sounds From Nowhereville. It sounds fabricated in the wrong sense. I'm not too sure why I heard the track and thought of the Bangles reforming as a 'thoughful' and more mature group. And is if to just spite me further, we get a rather pretentious track, 'In my life', at the end of the album, complete with gentle whisperings and cello.
But the first half of Sounds From Nowheresville is a cracker. It turns out that the Ting Tings had simply junked the album they were working on as it sounded "too Euro-trash" and "similar to all the music out there". Many critics have thought that Sounds from Nowhereville lacks the spontaneity and the spunk that the British duo's debut album We Started Nothing had. That may be true of the last two tracks of this ten-song album, but as a whole, the Ting Tings' latest fare is exciting, edgy and is awash with some brilliant music. And not the enforced, lo-fi DYI-spirit that seems to be the cliche with 'art rock' these days.
Ptting it delicately
Folk rock isn't my scene at all. The Glastonbury lot waving candles to a bunch of mellow yellow boys singing about baby whales and corporate nasties with a strum and a sigh wants me to break a drum. On listening to the Brit band Dry the River's debut album, Shallow Bed, though, I was pleasantly surprised. Fronted by the delicate Peter Liddle of the dulcet notes, the album starts with the hypnotic 'Animal skins'. That the boys come from Stratford becomes kind of clear when we hear Liddle sing in full Shakespearean bard gear: "Late October, old wives' summer,/ I'm all arms and legs./ Spread out like an adolescent/ On my shallow bed.
So, with animal skins around us, we go home. Home we go."
The music is beautiful in the pastoral sense in 'New ceremony'. I'm surprised that I don't gnash my teeth while listening to Liddle's falsetto especially in 'History book', a delicate number that seems to have come from the Jeff Buckley soundbox. It can get a bit same-old, same-old if you're hoping for something more than just harps and choir. So you have 'The chambers & the valves' with its Coldplay sound play.
Shallow Bed is a good spread for those who dig 'druid music', you know, the soft lilts and quiet charms of folksy-woksy. But for a non-maypole dancer like me, tracks like 'No rest' and 'Lion's den' are arresting for their epic quality. Dry the River has a strange vastness in their music that's quite puzzling for me actually.