Coloradan husband-and-wife duo Tennis have made a minor name for themselves over the past few years as purveyors of sweet, nostalgic pop. So it comes as something as a shock when Ritual In Repeat, their third album, opens with a barrage of aggressive, John Bonham-esque drumming.
Night Vision, the song that follows, certainly doesn’t sound anything like Led Zeppelin, but it does introduce an element that’s hitherto been absent from Tennis’s music: menace. That said, the menace recedes quickly when we reach a chorus that’s like a shaft of sunlight piercing through a dark cloud. But the point has been made: this is a new(-ish) Tennis: willing to provide excitement as well as nostalgia.
Night Vision is followed by Never Work For Free, an instantly-memorable song for which the ‘single track repeat’ function was invented for. The aggressive drums return on Needle And The Knife, although on this occasion they provide a nifty counterpoint to the chic (as opposed to Chic) melody; first single I’m Calling, meanwhile, boasts a toothsome chorus redolent of ’80s Janet Jackson.
Ritual In Repeat (which is getting a belated UK release after its Stateside appearance towards the end of last year) is never less than listenable, but it’s disappointing to discover that the boldness of its first four tracks isn’t maintained. Bad Girls and Timothy are the closest in sound to the act’s early work: the former is a doo wop-style song with a chorus that’s a perfect showcase for Alaina Moore’s voice, while the latter number’s dreamy harmonies lure the listener into a pleasant stupor before the song soars skywards towards the end.
Viv Without The N and the acoustic ballad Wounded Heart are as close as the album gets to filler: these numbers lack the tuneful punchiness of the album’s first third and therefore feel indistinct. The album does, however, perk up at the end, with Solar On The Rise’s polite garage rock and Meter And Line, which resembles one of The Go! Team’s occasional forays into guitar pop.
Ritual In Repeat isn’t going to catapult Tennis into the mainstream, but this is the boldest album yet from a band who are in complete command of their sound.