Seedy backroom bars, motorcycles, scotch, cigarettes, and love songs: The Raveonettes have managed to scrape together a picture book LP featuring the most memorable aspects of film noir and 1950s rebel flicks. Chain Gang of Love is the full package. Its main focus, of course, is love, but the presentation is something quite out of the ordinary.
The Danish duo appears on the cover of Chain Gang, their first full length, in motorcycle mimicry of a vigorous 1950s Marlon Brando. The album’s cover is a visual aid offering a little peek into how the tracks will come across. The Raveonettes draw from this image, as they combine a tad of CBGB’s punk mania, dreamy shoegazer and the novel sincerity of the early girl-group phenomenon.
While they’ve evolved from the three-chord nuggets that characterized this year’s "Whip it On" EP, they’re still inclined to wreak havoc; Chain Gang of Love is total madness. It’s a Saturday night record for a universally longed-for decade. "Leader of the Pack" producer Richard Gotteherer lends a production hand, and complements the band’s nostalgic approach evenly. Its harmonies, prom-song drums and saddening melodies are for the bobby-socked brunette who clutches her diary to her heart on the loneliest of nights. Its contemporary relevance is ever-present, though, in its reflective and somber lyrics, such as in "Love Can Destroy Everything."
This positive title suggests the worst, but the worst follows in the opening line: "If you were me / and all you could think of / was to die in your arms tonight." Lesley Gore be damned, this sounds like a party that everyone would cry at. "Love Can Destroy Everything" plays on the gentle lullaby that the Shangri-Las fashioned, but like the other servings from the Raveonettes, takes quite an unexpected turn. Its serene opening, complete with dusty record cracks, only distracts the listener for the mayhem that ensues at the chorus. Perversely bent guitar notes highlight the scorned lover’s testament: "Here I go / Not even surprised / When love is gone / Like something you stole." This duality characterizes Chain Gang; just about every song floats along the girl-group vibe, but sneak attacks with a dose of guitar noise and feedback.
The faster numbers offer the backdrop of a drag race; they’re frenzied anthems of sex, black leather and dimly lit cityscapes. "That Great Love Sound," "Little Animal" and "New York Was Great" are speedy freakouts, as the Raveonettes utilize their loudest amp settings here, treble maxed out. They’re a time bomb, moving in and out of pandemonium masked in gorgeous two-part harmony and fuzzed guitar. Chain Gang of Love is the unavoidable clash of love’s mess and love’s mayhem, bound together by an abundant surge of off-kilter pop energy.