The Raveonettes obscure their material in such a thick cocoon of style that it takes some strenuous effort to cut through to the actual music. Strip away all of their retro packaging and there’s still a whole lake of Jesus and Mary Chain distortion to traverse. In the past, it’s led me to wonder whether this duo actually had a beating heart or if it was just a pair of window-display dummies who had somehow learned how to play instruments. But on Lust Lust Lust, chief songwriter and instrumentalist Sune Rose Wagner finally rolls around in the murk of human passion and emerges with some of the Raveonettes’ best material to date. It’s about damn time.
Most notably, lead single “Dead Sound” writhes with an intensity that I would have never expected from this pair. The track opens with the drone of white noise from the guitar — par for the course with the Raveonettes. But then the song’s central riff charges through the haze, the sound levels spiking into the red before scaling back as the duo’s sleepy-eyed vocals enter. A languid surf guitar drifts into the mix. And suddenly there’s a tug-of-war going on — between overdriven lust and dreamy romance. It’s beautiful, simple, and dead sexy.
Elsewhere, the Raveonettes find other ways to titillate. “Aly, Walk with Me” opens the album with a bass-heavy menace that recalls Björk’s “Army of Me.” It pulses, struts, and glowers before a JAMC-grade storm of noise sweeps in to dash the whole thing away. The title track sways with slow seduction as Wagner and his female accomplice Sharin Foo sing in lazy harmony over a gentle beat.
“I fell out of heaven,” they sing forlornly, “to be with you in hell.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to filling out the rest of the album, the Raveonettes are hamstrung by their own singing. Wagner and Foo have never been the most expressive of vocalists, cooing and deadpanning as if they would lose hipster cred by showing a bit of intensity. Lust gives them the most emotionally substantive material they’ve ever had to work with, and yet there’s still that sense of detached restraint. Add to that a production style that’s about as monochromatic as the duo’s press photos and it’s not hard to see why the Raveonettes struggle to sustain variety over an entire album.
Lust represents an encouraging step away from the rampant posturing of previous Raveonettes efforts. We’re beginning to see what these two are capable of when they’re not flaunting their chic influences for approval. But how much further can they expand their aesthetic? Well, they surprised me this time around. There may be life in these old mannequins yet.
"Dead Sound" video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SMPjXsnD8k