The Raveonettes are thieves. Don't consider that an insult, though. Since its inception, some of the greatest rock 'n' roll has been all about stealing; John Lennon once bragged that the Beatles only stole from the very best, while the ancient saw argues that "talent borrows, genius steals." And while it may be overstating things to suggest that the Raveonettes — comprised of lead guitarist-singer-songwriter Sune Rose Wagner and guitarist-singer Sharin Foo — are "geniuses," they can certainly be cited as brilliant thieves.
Let's be honest: There really hasn't been anything new under the sun in rock 'n' roll for years, although one has to proudly point out that the "rock era" lasted longer than the jazz and swing eras combined. Still, the best one can hope for these days is that someone will take the essential elements and reinterpret them in a way that captures rock's original spirit while, at the same time, serving as an aural commentary on the form itself. And during this decade, songwriter Wagner has definitely served as one of rock's best hybridists and re-interpreters.
The standard media description of the Danish dynamic duo is that they're like a less creepy Jesus and Mary Chain, only with even more pop elements in their sound. That description is perhaps a bit too basic, though, as the band has taken many diversions up till now; their second LP, Pretty In Black, even flirted with the Carter Family and distorted Appalachian country sounds. And In and Out Of Control, their fifth album and second since parting with a major label, mostly leaves the Mary Chain on the back burner, instead delivering a product that's pretty much all late '70s New Wave pure pop albeit with a lot of dark lyricism.
The "thievery" is evident from the get-go, when the album kicks off with a deliberate bang! on a track called, um, "Bang," a perfect blend of rock and pop and one of the best opening moments you're likely to hear this year. The first line is a Lou Reed rip ("You're so vicious, baby") — but the real "stealing" here occurs on the tune's infectious chorus, which, melodically, is a direct cop of Barry McGuire/P.F. Sloan's "Eve of Destruction." That's OK, though, because Springsteen's "Badlands" was a rip of that same song. And with its teenage chorus ("The kids wanna bop out in the street/Fu-fu-fun all summer long"; the second time through, they add some obvious Beach Boys "aah's" after the lines — think of the Beach Boys as ghosts, though; no conceivable reference is lost on this crew), "Bang" is a genuine anthem for a new lost generation.
As expatriate Danes, the Raveonettes have an idealized image of rock 'n' roll that hasn't existed for years, if it ever existed — but none of the imagery will be lost on fans of the form. "And the radio blasted out the Ramones and Rockaway Beach," they harmonize on "Gone Forever," a hybrid of Blondie (think Debbie Harry at her most disaffected) and Duane Eddy. Blondie is also evident on the glockenspiel-laden "Last Dance," the first single that's smart enough to quote from Leiber & Stoller and/or the Drifters, as well as on the beautiful and hauntingly melodic "Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed"). Hell, these two are clever enough to even "steal" from themselves, as "Oh, I Buried You Today" rips off the wonderful melody from their own "Christmas Song," probably the best rock yuletide tune of the last decade.
Elsewhere, they merge Suicide with Gary Numan on the appropriately named "Breaking into Cars"; interestingly, they even include a track called "Suicide" here, although it as close to the Shangri-Las as it is to synth-pop. Perhaps most interesting, though, is "Heart of Stone," which predominantly features a slight variation on the guitar riffs from the Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul" and Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul," creating something in the amazing process that's almost as rockin' as those two classics were. The tune also has a brief melodic interlude that brings to mind the Electric Prunes' "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night," a melodic line that is also briefly visited on the aforementioned "Suicide."
In fact, the Raveonettes only really approach Jesus and Mary Chain territory once here, on "Break up Girls" (if you haven't figured out yet, Wagner obviously broke up with someone he must have loved deeply before writing this album), which features a wall of melodic feedback that hits the listener like a meteor shower. It's a brilliant rock sound they produce within the feedback — with punk, garage, metal, melodic pop and prog space rock all rolled into one — as well as a brilliant cap to what is surely one of 2009's most brilliant pop-rock records.
The Raveonettes play Friday, Oct. 23, at the Magic Stick, 41200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7665.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to [email protected].