1966: Despondent about American indifference to “River Deep, Mountain High,” Phil Spector secretly went to work with an unknown duo in Denmark. As a sociopolitical statement, they galvanized the girl-group sound with fuzz pedals and songs about sex. Although they made an acetate, there were other, faster iconoclasts, and the album collected dust until 2003, when it was issued as Chain Gang of Love by The Raveonettes.
How Phil Spector really spent the rest of 1966 is anybody’s guess, but that bit of historical revisionism sums up the precursor to Pretty in Black, the new album by The Raveonettes. This apple does not fall far from that tree.
Tracks three through five comprise the heart of the album. Lead single “Love in a Trashcan” matches a twangy melody with an equally twangy “c’mon, baby” and a “let’s give it to ’em right now” guitar solo. The best cut, “Sleepwalking,” bears a strong similarity to “Special K” by Placebo, which itself bears a strong similarity to “Mother’s Little Helper” by The Rolling Stones.
A dark love song, “Sleepwalking” seemingly settles down, then churns on as an instrumental for almost another minute.
After another love song, the gorgeously world-weary “Uncertain Times,” comes the car crash: a tepid cover of “My Boyfriend’s Back” by The Angels. The lead vocal is aloof from start to finish, and nothing new is introduced.
If a cover was necessary, “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)” by The Shangri-Las would have been a better fit.
Goodness resumes with “Here Comes Mary,” a morbid adaptation of “All I Have to Do Is Dream” by The Everly Brothers. “Twilight” and “You Say You Lie” are cool, trippy tracks that sandwich the even cooler “Somewhere in Texas,” the one tune here to rekindle the smoky fire from Whip It On.
“Ode to L.A.” is an uncategorizable extravaganza not content just to revisit “Baby, I Love You” by The Ronettes, even if it evokes equally “This Magic Moment” by Jay & The Americans. It recruits a gratefully divorced Ronnie Spector (nÇe Veronica Bennett) for a duet with Sharin Foo. The tribute is inventive and adds some sunshine to the album. The other celebrity guest of yesteryear is Moe Tucker of The Velvet Underground, who plays drums on “Ode to L.A.” and three other tracks.
The original material is solid, and the harmonies hypnotic. Except where The Raveonettes paint by numbers, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo adeptly rewrite American rock ‘n’ roll history through their Scandinavian perspective. Pretty in Black may not improve upon previous work but is a most welcome extension of their catalogue.