Ladytron - Velocifero
With 2005's 'Witching Hour', bonkers British-Bulgarian quartet Ladytron somehow pulled themselves out of the early noughties daft all surface-no feeling 'electroclash' movement. It showed a band developing the chops for catchy designer-synth and had more frosty pop than a 'Mini Milk' factory, particularly the lion's roar of 'Destroy Everything You Touch' which in a parallel world would've been No1 for, ooh, a fortnight at least.
No doubt encouraged by its critical success, album No.4 'Velocifero' ('bringer of speed') is the sound of a more ambitious, confident band. The Argos Bontempi keyboards are gone, they now stand Rick Wakeman-like (but prettier obviously) over a sea of new toys, Octopus arms a-flailing. Maybe it's even time to finally take the learner stickers off the piano keys.
'Black Cat' opens the gates in style with an classically extended instrumental opening - think 'The Queen Is Dead' but with flying cars. Dramatically sung in bad-cop Mira Aroyo's native Bulgarian (one of the lines translate as 'Turn the cat into an eagle today to fly off the map') it cruises a midnight run with a deadbeat pulse pounding like vintage John Carpenter.
The Dr Who /'Shoot The Runner' bass roll of lead single 'Ghosts' is next. Its freewheeling 'dum di dum' rhythm made me want to gallop around the house on an imaginary horse. Just in case it wasn't bombastic enough already, it even ends with the crash of a giant gong. With a spooky mantra chant, their hypnotic drive now sounds more than ever like a black-hearted Stereolab. Some will be hooked, whilst others will want to jettison the CD out of the nearest window when, for the 25th time, good-cop Helen Marnie sings “there's a ghost in me, he wants to say he's sorry, doesn't mean I'm sorry”.
This is a fantastic album for drummers, all you stay-at-home 'Rock Band' drummers should dive straight in. Nearly all of the songs bloom from towering drum loops. 'Runaway' kicks off with a 'Rockit' '80's beatbox, then an 'Escape From New York' bass and Helen pining for her 'little runaway' like some replicant Del Shannon. The vocals are wonderfully monotone throughout with little or no explicit emotion – by design or limitation – but it perfectly suits the music. It's the anti Leona Lewis. Hallelujah.
The broken English sloganeering is suitably OTT too and gives gonzo wordsmith Shakira a run for her money (sample 'I'm Not Scared''s 'Instruments they leer towards you'). Its bunny boiler dread and childlike simplicity is entertainingly tongue in cheek. 'Burning Up''s pin-drop of a line 'I set myself on fire without you' did chill my spine though, not just because it reminded me of that Rage Against The Machine sleeve. Eek!! The couplets and manifestos are so vivid and melodramatic they would make a great graphic novel - be it the lonesome Herman Munster of 'They Gave You A Heart' or the Omar-a-coming whistle in the 'nights never ending' of 'Predict The Day'.
At its peak it echoes the great Euro synth pop of the '80's, songs like 'I'm In Love With a German Film Star', 'Are Friends Electric?' or 'Voyage,Voyage'. There are shades of that decade's goth pop too, particularly on 'Season of Illusions' where Mira's mourning angel resurrects Siouxsie Sioux. 'Burning Up' notably sparkles like New Order's 'Crystal' too.
The highlight for me is definitely 'Deep Blue'. It's a classy, but unusually conventional, 'club' track - dark, sexy and draped rich in weeping violins like a remodelled 'Fade To Grey'. It would be a monster hit for Britney or Kylie. It is, to borrow Neil Tennant's term, perfect “tragi-disco”, reveling in its own misery, 'I'm sorry for the news the other day, let's go and play before they take you down.'
There are a few horrors amongst its 13 tracks though. 'Kletva' – a cover from a 1970's children's film – dreams like an exotic Cocteau Twins but awakes as a limp t.A.T.u. cast off. The closing track 'Versus' similarly shoots for 'The Killing Moon' but feels more like killing time. A jangly duet over a wonky calypso roll, it's definitely in the wrong room. After all the intensity, it's like peeking behind the curtain in The Wizard Of Oz. Although, admittedly, the line 'like a kitten versus rain' is a brilliantly effective image.
So is it better than its predecessor? It's damn close but there's less range of mood here, it's all 'Yes! YES! HELL YES!' which can't help but drain it of its mojo. It needed just one genuine melancholy dolly. There's no partner here for 'Witching Hour's' luscious 'Beauty*2', no sad red light fading in the Terminator's eye.
But it's crystal clear this album contains some of Ladytron's finest songs and will only boost their portfolio for a cracking live set. It's silly, naively charming, occasionally unsettling, but highly enjoyable. It may not put them in the big league but will intensify the cult and ensure they remain one of this decade's more colourful secrets.