With a frontwoman so commanding and unassuming, it was only a matter of time before Noisettes decided to push Shingai Shoniwa out front for the sake of commercial viability after partially burying her in the clamor and modern-rock sludge of their debut album, What’s The Time, Mr. Wolf. (That’s her face in the center of the album cover.) It’d be like if Yeah Yeah Yeahs buried Karen O.’s vocals on “Maps” in layers of fuzz.
On sophomore album, Wild Young Hearts, Shoniwa is capable of being a sultry songstress (“Every Now and Then,” “Sometimes”), a lovelorn Motown bandleader (“Never Forget You”) and a yelling electroclash monster (“Saturday Night” and “Don’t Upset the Rhythm”) all while never letting the audience forget who runs the show. But despite having Shoniwa’s excellent performances on every track, Wild Young Hearts is beset by the same consistent quality problems that plagued What’s the Time. It’s not that anything here is especially terrible (well, maybe the To Kill a Mockingbird-referencing “Atticus”); it’s that most of it is forgettable slop that sounds fit more for 30 second Juicy Fruit commercials than the masterful sophomore album Noisettes were undoubtedly shooting for.
The commercial sheen, with its maxed-out instruments, nearly programmed drums and choruses that seem five times louder than the verses, of these songs perhaps should be laid at the feet of producer Jim Abbiss, who did a similarly bang-up job working over tracks from Rakes and Adele. Many of the fast-tempo songs here blur together; the booming sloganeering of U.K. hit single “Don’t Upset the Rhythm” bleeds into the blaring choruses of “Saturday Night” (a song destined to end up in a Taco Bell commercial) and the empty, “Ain’t young people the darndest thing?” message of “Wild Young Hearts.”
Wild Young Hearts as a whole isn’t so dire; there are genuine moments of triumph, particularly the Motown sway of “Never Forget You,” with its soulful backing singers and understated strings, and the light balladry of “Cheap Kicks.” Overall however, Wild Young Hearts shows a young band still unsure of what to do with itself (Brit-pop, Motown, electroclash, something else?) but sure that its lead singer is pretty great. And for now, that’s working well enough.