On their first three albums, the group employed a deceitful "bait and switch" strategy. First, they would lure me in with one or two absolutely irresistible pop singles. Their 2001 debut, 604, featured "Playgirl," follow-up Light and Magic from 2002 included "Evil" and "Seventeen," and 2005’s Witching Hour boasted the explosive "Destroy Everything You Touch." But the band filled the rest of those albums with considerably less tuneful and approachable material, admirable specimens of what we critics called "electroclash" before that term became a pejorative.
But on their forth LP, Velocifero, Ladytron have broken from this formula, and the result is easily their most consistently appealing album to date. Velocifero lacks that one lights-out single that marked the group’s previous releases. "Ghosts" could have been it, had the band jacked up the vocals and toned down the atmospheric layering of synths and guitars, but the song is better off as is. Opener "Black Cat," too, but the lyrics are in Bulgarian. On the other hand, the album is full of songs that possess many of the qualities of their best singles: pulsating synth grooves, Mira Aroyo muttering in a provocatively menacing fashion, Helen Marnie delivering melodic vocal hooks. (See "They Gave You a Heart, They Gave You a Name," "Tomorrow," and epic closer "Versus.")
Furthermore, continuing a trend they began on their last album, the group have brought more of their live sound into the studio. Tracks like "I’m Not Scared" and "Burning Up" stomp and swagger, reminding us that Ladytron is an actual band, not just a pile of synths hooked up to a computer.
Still, Ladytron still hasn’t figured out how to write a bridge. No matter how clever your verses are or how brilliant your choruses are, great songs demand a critical strand of connective tissue that joins one to the other. Without it, Ladytron’s songs will always err in the direction of excessive repetition. The group’s songwriting skills have advanced, but a little bit of by-the-book song structure would go a long way.
Despite this, Velocifero represents a big step forward for Ladytron. The album showcases the band’s pop proclivities while preserving the dark, often harsh, atmospherics that makes their sound so distinct.