Four years ago, Noisettes were a struggling indie-rock outfit who had seen their debut album, 2007’s What’s the Time Mr Wolf?, chart at No 75. Nothing to shout about, really – the breakthrough that had been talked about in the press back in 2006 never really materialised, at least not first time out. The band then decided to change their tune. The three-piece – Shingai Shoniwa, Dan Smith and Jamie Morrison – returned in April 2009 with a slick and polished soul-pop album that brimmed with melody and confidence. It also featured the song that, a few weeks previously, had gone in straight at Number 2 in the singles chart (with the help of a Mazda sync): Don’t Upset The Rhythm. They repeated the trick with the album, Wild Young Hearts.
And this brings us to the present day. For their third outing, the Noisettes of 2012 are down a band member – Morrison, the drummer, left in 2010, leaving Shoniwa (vocals/bass) and Smith (guitar) to carry on.
As the saying goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and that’s the exact sort of mentality the duo have decided to employ this time out. Contact chooses its targets carefully enough, beginning with a flourish with the short introduction Transmission Will Start. It helps that Shoniwa’s powerful voice is able to lift even the most underwhelming of songs, but there are definitely times at which she seems to be carrying the record.
There are a number of misfires, and no amount of positivity can hide them. The folk-tinged Ragtop Car doesn’t blend well with Shoniwa’s voice at all, and its lyrics (“You and me together are gonna take on the world, so look out, ’cause we’re coming on strong”) seem oddly soulless; ironic, considering the style of music Noisettes rose to prominence with. The new, ‘uplifting’ outlook on their third outing is borderline relentless, and their accomplished pop sound aims for the rafters even when it’s better off adjusting its focus. Lead single Winner is a soaring electropop song that finds the duo playing to their strengths, but one wishes that they would have done more of that. Though Contact prides itself on its diversity, it never seems to gel properly and comes across as even more flawed as a result.
Its sentiments are sweet, certainly, and despite the uninspired nature of many of the lyrics on offer, they seem to suit the band rather well – that is, until they start pushing their message too hard. What was once sweet becomes saccharine, and Travelling Light, a piano ballad with big intentions, falls flat on its face, a cringeworthy chorus of “yesterday is just a thought away” taking the wind out of the album’s sails. It never seems to recover properly, even if the feisty Love Power makes a valiant attempt to get things back on an even keel.
The best is served until last, as the melody of Transmission Will Start is reprised in the string-soaked, cinematic title track, which does what a lot of this album can’t seem to do; that is, back up its ambitions with real substance. Try as they might to avoid this, with their ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ approach, a lot of their latest effort seems like a vehicle for Shoniwa’s vocals and little else. Noisettes are starting to run out of steam. Perhaps another rethink is needed.