Chain Gang Of Love
cross the sea from Denmark they came, looting and pillaging, seizing what they could of our Western cultural heritage. No, not the Vikings, but The Raveonettes. Old national stereotypes die hard, it seems – or at least they do in the case of Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo, who appear hell-bent on plundering from the back catalogue of Glasgow’s finest The Jesus & Mary Chain, to quite wonderful effect.
Danish by origin they might well be, but in terms of their sound and aesthetic The Raveonettes are from the same lineage as The Velvet Underground, The Ramones and, most recently, the brothers Reid. Like their spiritual forefathers, they summon up a whole world, one populated by leather-clad flick-knife-carrying motorbike-riding youths who model themselves on James Dean, hunting in packs and roaming the city streets and alleyways in pursuit of teenage kicks.
The songs used to create this world are the product of a single-minded and consistent adherence to a musical blueprint. Not only must no track be allowed to outstay its welcome – and this means nothing longer than three minutes – but only a prescribed set of ingredients may be used: metronomic beats involving bass drum but very little snare, fuzzy bass, the occasional tinkle of sleigh bells, an omnipresent tambourine and, of course, a mighty guitar squall. Oh, and the whole thing must all be written in B major.
The first thing that struck me about this record was that it’s fucking brilliant. The second thing that struck me was the realisation that there are precious few records which, on very first listen, have left me feeling that way. This album has about it a startling immediacy and directness of purpose. Whereas most take at least some time to bed themselves down in your consciousness and are gradually absorbed over repeated listens by a process akin to osmosis, Chain Gang Of Love bypasses that period altogether as if it’s been injected straight into your bloodstream. There’s no implicit demand for patience and perseverance, and no complex structures to become acclimatised to or cryptic lyrics to decipher. Hail To The Thief this most definitely ain’t.
That’s not to say, however, that this is a pure pop record, though the vocal harmonies are an absolute joy throughout. No, as you might expect from an album which positively revels at cavorting in Psychocandy’s shadow, these harmonies, and the perfectly crafted songs of which they are an integral part, are swamped under layer upon layer of feedback. Take ‘Noisy Summer’, for instance, a track which, alongside fabulous lead single ‘That Great Love Sound’, encapsulates the essence of what The Raveonettes are all about. Wagner and Foo trill sweetly together to a hand-clap beat, before the wall of scuzzy guitars kick in and suddenly it’s like listening to a Beach Boys CD while someone in the same room is trying to tune into the shipping forecast on the radio with the volume turned right up. The whole thing positively reeks of teen spirit, and it’s marvellous.
The critics and sceptics (of whom, let’s be honest, there’ll be many) will no doubt blather on about The Raveonettes’ flagrant disregard for cultural and intellectual property, and dismiss them as just another bunch of lazy and unscrupulous chancers who, lacking an original bone in their body, are content to ransack the past for their own personal gain. In their defence, though, they can’t be faulted for what is impeccable taste. And they do it so well, and with such a childish innocent reverence for the bands they love, that to condemn Chain Gang Of Love as sacrilegious would be grossly unfair.
What’s more, it would be equally unfair to deny that they bring anything new to the party. Listen to the wonky bittersweet ballad ‘Love Can Destroy Everything’, or Foo’s seductive cooing on ‘The Love Gang’ – a track comes across like a smudged-lipstick kiss, or The Shangri-Las performing in a welding factory – and suddenly The Raveonettes seem to explain why The Jesus & Mary Chain were drawn irresistibly to cover ‘Surfin USA’ and why the production duties on The Ramones LP End Of The Century were handled by Phil Spector. The Raveonettes are the vital missing link in a musical chain gang of love, one which spans decades – indeed, the whole history of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s appropriate, then, that you should love this record unreservedly, given that love is at its very heart.
Reviewed by: Ben Woolhead
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01