Ask any semi-serious hip-hop head about the greatest problem facing hip-hop these days, and he may tell you ring-tone rappers like Soulja Boy, Flo Rida, and T-Pain are killing the game. This kind of knee-jerk reaction to overt commerciality is, of course, a joke, because the supposed point of all commerce-based mediums (like music, movies, and online music magazines) is to get that product in front of as many people as possible. Where the brilliance of rappers like those mentioned above comes in, though, is the ability to synthesize what makes a genre great (in the case of hip-hop, easy to sing choruses, overly ridiculous personalities, and danceable beats) and make it easily consumed by the general public. In a way, Soulja Boy is the Olive Garden of hip-hop.
In turn Manchester, England’s, the Ting Tings are dance-punk’s Soulja Boy. The group (drummer Jules de Martino and singer/guitarist Katie White) take everything notable from dance-punk (LCD Soundsystem-style percussion, Rapture-like grooves and choruses, New Young Pony Club-esque vocals, and the party vibe of !!!) and synthesize it into their debut album, We Started Nothing, a collection of 10 songs that sound like ring tones that are ready for mass consumption.
Not that’s there anything wrong with that, but the album doesn’t lend itself to prolonged enjoyment or excitement; the Ting Tings place all their hopes into the success of the songs’ individual hooks instead of the album as a cohesive unit. The band may have hoped that every track here would be a catchy single, but unfortunately for the Ting Tings, the album’s truly great hooks are buried underneath too much blasé near-catchy filler.
The album opens with the supremely catchy “Great DJ,” a song that’s mostly wordless chorus (“The drums, the drums, the drums”) is probably playing on a phone next to you right now. The album’s lone great track, “That’s Not My Name,” follows, strutting like a long-lost girl-group stomper (or a Pipettes B-side, depending on your perspective) and features two individual halves (one slightly ambient, and one up-tempo) that are more memorable than anything on the album.
The following two tracks, filler to be sure, “Fruit Machine” and “Traffic Light,” (the latter using traffic lights as a metaphor for living) seem to serve no other purpose than to act as buffer between “That’s Not My Name” and the iPod commercial track “Shut Up and Let Me Go.” The track is perfect fodder for an iPod commercial; it features one memorable line that can punctuate the end of the advertisement (just like CSS’s “Music Is my Hot, Hot Sex”), and it has the kind of bass line that allows Apple’s faceless automatons to dance like de-spined spazzes (like the Fratellis’ “Flathead”).
More filler acts as buffer between “Shut Up” and the album’s weirdest track, the Fear of Music-era Talking Heads pastiche of “Impacilla Carpisung,” that actually has no identifiable hooks. The weirdness carries over to the closing title track, a song that features a guitar line with four notes that sound awfully familiar to the opening sequence of Futurama and features White singing in a nearly out-of-tune falsetto before the song devolves into a sax-ual explosion.
Aiming to get your music onto people’s phones and TV commercials is a noble pursuit that is (probably) harder than making an album of self-reflective, noncommercial death metal (or whatever the opposite of a pop band is). But We Started Nothing has only four memorable tracks. As a four-track EP, this would have made for an indelibly catchy collection; as an album, it plays like four lone meatballs awash in a pot of bland noodles.
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