B flat major! Major! Raveonettes fans, take note – gone are your days of bobbing about in the effervescent surf melancholy of Whip It On. Since their 2002 EP, the photogenic duo has industriously acquired two new band members, a spotty full album, and a whole new (related) key to compose all their songs in. Leather has also been distributed liberally.
Chain Gang of Love still relies on the most celebrated gimmick of their first release. The “whiplash rock ‘n’ roll” promised on the CD cover is written and performed entirely in the aforementioned musical key, a major step (no pun intended) from Whip It On‘s entirely B minor landscape. The main difference is how its comparatively upbeat ringing allows singer/songwriter/guitarist Sune Rose Wagner to try a little tenderness; he’s the horniest, most exultant Danish boy in eyeliner since the creepy bald dude from Aqua. He uses almost every track to indulge his libido with first-person lyrics of prostitutes, sex, love, whips, sex, and somewhat uncoolly name-checking himself (“Let’s Rave On”).
At 33 minutes, though, the repetition of chords and nookie eventually becomes catatonic. The dogged theoretical consistency of B major gives the album the same languid flow of their past work but is just too much of the same; everything 20 minutes on dissolves into a sluggish Jesus and Mary Chain/Dick Dale/Vicodin super-medley. Singer/bassist Sharon Foo still matches with Rose Wagner note for note but offers nothing beyond the familiar Everly Brothers harmonizing; what worked for the short party furor of the EP just drags here. Even the coarse sexuality of “Little Animal” loses its shock value and seems familiar when sandwiched between similar items, and many of the songs (“Dirty Eyes,” “The Truth About Johnny,” “New York Was Great”) lose momentum without catchy hooks and choruses.
Problematic also is the group’s hesitant foray into efx backgrounds. “Love Can Destroy Everything” delivers an epileptic beeping of such head-smashing annoyance that it ruins the beautiful Santo and Johnny-inspired guitar swells below it. We’re never given a chance to ease into the slinking surf behind it; the prominent beeping marches on like a bomb that should just explode already. It stands in sad contrast to the varied clicking and sleigh bells of the album’s title track, which builds beautifully on its contrasting backgrounds and plays off the title with its clanking. The song shows a maturity in songwriting and positive expansion in their newcomers, guitarist Manoj Ramdas and drummer Jakob Hoyer.
With the distinct sound the Raveonettes often produce, it’s disappointing they don’t try to say more. Rose Wagner often sings like John Lennon caught in mid-sigh but offers lyrics that stay in a light, flirtatious realm and don’t extend past, which is not uniquely negative to the group but limits the variance and replay power of the songs. Only the tracks as darkly singsong as Whip It On stand out, as does the oddly angelic distortion in “Noisy Summer” and the sparsely cold “Remember.”
With Chain Gang of Love, the Raveonettes have found some lighter calling to life than the seething emotion of their first EP. Their gain is our loss.