By: Patrick Doherty
You knew it was just a matter of time before someone would try to cross icy new-wave with Japanese electro-pop and German isolationism, but who would have thought it would sound like this? Ladytron punches giant holes in the stereotype of new new-wavers as self-referential nerds with the release of 604.
Critics on both sides of the Atlantic have been hard pressed to describe Ladytron’s sound without succumbing to the usual "futuristic" and "retro-new-wave" terms, and this review is no exception. But 604 proves there's more to Ladytron than just a kitschy 1980's synth-pop rehashing. It is most definitely new new-wave: there are endless Casio loops and distorted, deadpan female vocals. So yes, it has that retro-futuristic edge, but what sets 604 apart is the distinct lack of kitsch. Ladytron isn't joking. New wave isn't a walk down memory lane for the band- it's a lifestyle. Good thing the band has an arsenal of melodies to back it up.
The pop hooks on 604 are certainly well crafted, but they don't stay with you for long. Ladytron has lain the groundwork carefully, making all the right noises, but the songs still need some work before I can wholly recommend them. The Casios are layered tightly- not just randomly inserted for show. The lyrics are dark and somewhat disturbing for a band that seems so fun on the surface. Ladytron may in fact be the first new new-wave band to try to sell itself as the de facto future of pop music, as opposed to a tongue-in-cheek reference to the past. The songs carry an aura of punk ethos- a trait shared with Devo, and the result is a transparency of spirit and genuineness that is hard to spot in similarly motivated bands like Baxendale and Barcelona, among others.
The best evidence for this conclusion is the lyrical content. It tends to revolve around emotional isolation and despondency and thankfully not around Atari games or the essence of being a kitchen appliance. “I didn’t feel a thing when you told me that/you didn’t feel a thing when I told you that/I didn’t feel a thing” from "Another Breakfast With You" reveals the ambiguity and dejectedness typical of 604's lyrics. Need more proof? "I know her/used to follow everywhere we’d go/and it’s so sweet/now she’s sleeping with a boy I know/a boy I know/knows a pretty girl in every town/and the way they look/they were made to let each other down” from "Discotraxx." "She’s looking at you/so maybe you’re looking too/do you want to be her or don’t you/of course you do/but would she be you?” from "Jet-Age." 604 is lyrically more serious than you'd expect from nerdy, black clad knob-twiddlers, and for that reason alone Ladytron seems to be staking out territory that its new new-wave contemporaries are not.
Additionally, the major keys tend to be evenly distributed on 604, so that you want to dance but not necessarily with a smile on your face. Much like Blur's mid-1990's output, Ladytron delivers a post-modern sense alienation that is ironic without seeming overly pretentious. Blame it on the British heritage, but it smacks you in the face throughout the record. The less serious songs tend to be instrumentals like the Technique-era New Order homage "Commodore Rock." However, the lyrics expose Ladytron’s collective agenda at every turn.
604 reduces new new-wave pop to a science, albeit an unfinished one. Tight production, clever hooks, dark lyrics, and plenty of Casios make this record hard to dismiss, despite the overwhelming feeling of detachment. It's fun music, but it won't make you drop everything and buy the band's back catalogue. 604 is a good sign, though, that Ladytron is on the road to a new breed of sound.