REVIEW: Noisettes, What’s the Time Mr. Wolf?, Universal Motown

Posted May 27th, 2007 by Eric Greenwood · No Comments

Bands don’t often burst out of the gate with this much confidence and finesse. So it follows that bassist/vocalist Shingai Shoniwa and guitarist Dan Smith had already formed a musical bond in the band Sonarfly before starting the Noisettes in late 2003. Meeting up with drummer Jamie Morrison gave the new trio its matching manic underpinning.

Noisettes hail from London and boast a peculiar name. One tends to think of ‘60’s girl groups when the suffix “ettes” is involved. But it doesn’t much gel with the roundhouse elastic musicianship at play here. And that elasticity is stretched to its limits on What’s the Time Mr. Wolf?

The band tears through various ‘n sundry genres (albeit glossing the most hackneyed bits) with sophistication and ease like a group of overeducated dilettantes. For any lyrical missteps, there is a voice behind them that is so controlled, shrill, frantic, soulful, and commanding that the point immediately becomes moot and Shoniwa should, perhaps, be given a pass: “On the Bridge to Canada/you can wear me like a frown” (“Bridge to Canada”). Ok, perhaps not.

To label this band ‘indie’ is disingenuous. Sure it dabbles in ‘indie’-like sounds, but a garage band this is not. The metamorphosis of the Jimi Hendrix-styled riff that opens “Scratch Your Name” into the more palatable indie rock frequency of its verse tips the Noisettes’ cards a bit. The stop/start urgency of the chorus shows a fiery underbelly to Shoniwa’s soulful croon. But it all adds up to the fact that this band knows how to play into its own chameleon-like versatility without sacrificing its experimental determination.

The ambitiousness of this debut is sprawling and can seem overwhelming at times. Forays into punk, jazz, blues, and pop should make it sound like a mess, but the band’s quick-release dexterity somehow caulks many of the gaps. Take the album highlight, “IWE”, for example; after some bended, distorted strains, it begins modestly with clean and loose chk chk chk’s with Shoniwa building her aggression until it literally explodes into a ball of noise. Shoniwa can shriek out notes as pitch perfect as her coos, and her bass playing is as comfortable with thrash as it is subtle rhythms.

All of these dynamics are indeed impressive. Too bad there aren’t just as many hooks to back them up. What’s the Time Mr. Wolf ? does boast enough potential to keep it from being easily forgotten. Noisettes will surely catch up to the hype in time.

Tags: album-review