Ladytron - Gravity the Seducer
Plug in and warm those valves. Ladytron turn their noses up at the unmistakeable onset of the winter chill. Their fifth album – recorded, it says here, a year ago – is a quiet triumph, bringing with it a welcome skim of hazy sunshine. It melts a layer of the electro-chill that characterised 2008’s Velocifero. Kor(g) blimey, guv’. In parts, make no mistake, it’s enough to make you want to get up and actually dance. Chin strokers, seriously, get thee gone.
Make no mistake: this is still Ladytron. I expect (indeed, I demand) that Helen and Mari will continue to stand impassively beyond their keyboards, autons of pop, their live schtick a cosmic brew of starlight and dark matter. But here, not for the first time but certainly never before to such a degree, they flex muscles of a thrillingly popular kind. If you’re on board, you’ll get it. Curious? Good. Gravity the Seducer almost implores you: join our club.
Colourful but purposeful enough to marry its subtle shades of variation to a focused MO, it’s an album whose thrills jab with speed and accuracy. ‘White Elephant’, the album’s stately, baroque opener almost jams the brakes on going any further; a tender ballad whose skyward harmonies detail a barely there dreamscape: “Surrender with me, We're walking in our sleep / I won't come around for you, leave the story at the shore / Hey, put our pistols down, crawl along the ground / Where we won't, won't be found.” Love as a battlefield or just ineffable longing? GTS (hey!) peaks from the off.
Kinetics take over after that disquieting start. ‘Mirage’ is blinding, pumped by soaring beats, it’s 2011’s ‘Runaway’. ‘Ace of Hz’ deals in similar kinetics, all analogue fizz and aping every 80s synth duo who ever went three minutes without blinking or moving. (You may, as I did, spend hours trying to pinpoint its intro. Answers on a postcard, please. It’s killing me.) A brace of instrumentals (‘Ritual’ and ‘Transparent Days’) stop the wind, the former pounding and robust, the latter a whirlwind of anticipation, building and building until … It’s so reminiscent of Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ but I detect canny homage rather than imitation.
Various changes of pace will retain your involvement. Mira’s ‘Moon Palace’ owes a debt to Siouxsie and the Banshees, mystical and incantatory. Its “The serpent sea is calling out your name” refrain is as beautifully pitched a piece of gothicism as I’ve heard this century. She takes lead again on ‘Altitude Blues’, a spoken word mood piece. It sparks up like Little Boots’ ‘Click’ but settles into a groove that isn’t a million miles away from Enigma’s oddball hit from the mid-90s ‘Sadness (Pt. 1)’. Slightly mad, utterly beguiling, absolutely irresistible.
Best of all is ‘Ambulances’, which snakes around deft staccato and deals in wonderfully overwrought dramatics, Helen sneaking up an octave, a devilish sweep of strings and a siren song from the future. High spots like this confirm all you ever knew or suspected: Ladytron are synthetic but ever symphonic. If a couple of tracks feel a little under-imagined, no matter. ‘White Gold’ peddles a real clod-hopper of a chorus (“You come to me with the power of deception” – oomph) and ‘Melting Ice’ is a little too light and airy to make too much impact. Overall, hardly worth mentioning.
As icily cool as they ever were, Ladytron manage their chops with guile. Like all the best pop infiltrators, they inch towards broad appeal with stealth and little in the way of compromise. They are such a grand design, still, but there are hearts beating behind their sleek elegance. In a world ravaged by ugly, Ladytron dare to be beautiful.