On retro release, overhyped Raveonettes party like it’s 1950

By Seth Mayer

Remember when garage rock was going to change the world? No, no; not the ’50s. No one remembers that.

Think back to those idealistic days of ’02, before Jack White had a Dick Dastardly mustache and beat the shit out of that guy from the Von Bondies. It was back then that all a couple of Danish people had to do to be a buzz band was get the music press to compare them to some underground favorite from the ’80s or ’90s. And so the Raveonettes came onto the scene, their flag with the words “We are the bastard child of Buddy Holly and the Jesus and Mary Chain” flying high above them.

People ate it up, despite what was basically a pretty boring debut, Whip It On. Their second album was a lot more interesting and catchy, but not that huge of a stylistic departure. The biggest difference was that Chain Gang of Love, their follow up to Whip It On, was recorded entirely in B-flat major, instead of B-flat minor. Both albums were mildly interesting and showed potential, but neither really justified the initial adoration lavished on the band.

Pretty In Black is their third album, and the main difference is that the Raveonettes include a couple of slower songs and don’t restrict themselves to just one fuzzed-out key. It has the same nostalgia as their first two albums—for a time when doing it in the back of an American-made car with tail fins was the only thing more widespread than bigotry and alcohol-abuse problems. This is the America of Rebel Without a Cause and those adorable time-travel movies starring Michael J. Fox. The ’50s of the Raveonettes is one of sex, tragedy, and rock ‘n’ roll; they incorporate its music and mythology into their own work by combining it with more recent sounds, like the aforementioned Jesus and Mary Chain.

On Pretty In Black, the first couple of songs sound like the kind of thing people in taffeta dresses and powder-blue tuxes would dance to. It’s an interesting way to start the album, and it eases you into songs that sound pretty much exactly like every other Raveonettes song ever—that is, decent, but not that interesting.

Some of the best moments in the album come about halfway through the CD. A cover of the classic “My Boyfriend’s Back” has great hooks and an endearing novelty to it. The next few tracks aren’t radical departures, but they offer considerably more charm than most of the album’s filler. “Here Comes Mary” is about as near as you can get to the Everly Brothers without paying royalties. It’s a catchy track.

The best song on Pretty in Black, though, is probably “Twilight.” It’s a return to the driving catchiness of the Raveonettes’ best work. It also has their characteristic distortion, which has less of a central place on this album than their previous releases. Above all, “Twilight” is an exciting, danceable song that comes at the right time on a CD that doesn’t do nearly enough to pull you in.

The Raveonettes’ newest release is far from a bad album, but too much of it is boring rehashes of their past work or less interesting slower songs without sufficient melodic charisma. Buying it becomes a good idea only if you really like this band. Some of the Raveonettes’ music is a lot of fun, but generally their work lacks the spark that makes people see the resurgence of garage rock as something more than the latest trend. Pretty In Black comes as off as perfectly fine, but mostly disposable; after three releases, the Raveonettes just haven’t lived up to the hype yet.