With Witching Hour, the members of Ladytron show they know what their strengths are – and how to play to them. This third album from the Liverpool-based quartet is both sophisticated and accessible, and it couldn’t be more appropriately titled (and yes, it technically clocks in at 60:00). Though Ladytron’s previous albums, 604 (2000) and Light & Magic (2002), are both excellent, they are also most notable for their moments of brilliance – the melancholy elegance of “Playgirl” or the snaky, infectious hook of “Seventeen.” Here, Ladytron manages to sustain those moments of brilliance over the course of an entire album.
The band couldn’t get off to a stronger start. Opener “High Rise” is dense and propulsive, with big, echoing vocals; the dark, relentless “Destroy Everything You Touch,” is a nearly perfect synth-pop song, and it’s also the album’s best track. Though there are other great pop songs here, Ladytron also succeeds with stranger, more haunting tracks such as “Soft Power” and “Beauty*2” and the gently sweeping album closer “All the Way .”
Ladytron hasn’t radically altered its modus operandi, but the fact that its members are more experienced, self-aware songwriters is what makes Witching Hour superior to its predecessors. On previous albums, Mira Aroyo’s speak-singing worked to ground Helen Marnie’s airy vocals, but she’s rarely heard on Witching Hour, which I would’ve expected to be a bad thing. Fortunately, Marnie’s delivery is so consistently good and so appropriate for this set of songs that it compensates for the loss of the interplay. And whereas the lyrics on Light & Magic sometimes sounded incidental, they are refreshingly a much more prominent part of this set of songs.
Witching Hour is cohesive without ever being repetitive – tracks as different as the pretty, plaintive “International Dateline” and the industrial “Fighting in Built Up Areas” make sense together. Ladytron’s greatest accomplishment here is the atmosphere of cool beauty it creates immediately and maintains to the finish. It’s rare for an album to transport you so fully onto its own terrain, and Witching Hour is a worthwhile retreat.