The Raveonettes have always been brazen, if a little schizophrenic, about their influences. So the opportunity to recruit ex-Velvet Underground drummer Mo Tucker and ex-Ronettes Ronnie Spector to pitch in on Pretty In Black was, for them, almost undoubtedly a no-brainer; who better to provide an air of nostalgic authenticity then people who were actually there?
But in some ways their presence is counter-productive, just drawing big fat underlines under sections and hollering “Look! Look how much this sounds like someone else!” They achieve their desire to appear to be from another decade, but at the expense of losing a great deal of individuality. Additionally, lifting their musical restrictions (songs in one key; sub-three minute duration) has allowed them to produce more complete pastiches, but has possibly further diminished their musical personality.
But maybe, in other ways, their distinctiveness could be said to come from the manner in which they blend their stolen parts. So if you’ve ever pondered what Calexico covering Tomorrow Never Knows would be like, take a moment to peruse Somewhere In Texas. If trying to decide how The Velvets would have covered Apache kept you up at night, then sleep easy after a dose of Red Tan. And if contemplating whatever happened to Spectoresque, reverb heavy, wall of sound constructions propping up girl-group harmonising caused the veins in your temples to throb uncontrollably, then be sure to reduce your blood pressure with the, quite magnificent, Ode To LA.
They all work. Others really don’t: My Boyfriend’s Back ramps the kitsch factor to fibre-optic Jesus dashboard adornment levels, and is teeth-grindingly bad. Seductress Of Bums, despite the title, is far too cutesy for its own good – in fact it’s so cutesy you just want to smack it in the face till it cries, runs home and grows a pair, and if I’d wanted to see a Dane pretend to be Elvis (The Heavens), I’d move to Copenhagen and put an ad in a local newspaper.
Pretty In Black is like shopping in a vintage store: full of great looking items that you want to pick up and handle and that you can get excited and wistful about; you want to buy something and get it home. And although you could have bought something wonderfully evocative, steeped in generational cool, it’s just as likely to be a neon-green beanbag that you realise you can’t actually get out of without additional assistance.
Because while neon-green beanbags had a time, it isn’t now. But then again, some old things still work. Some old things are still desirable. Is Pretty In Black? Partly. There are times when The Raveonettes feel like they are being held in peonage to their fascinations, but there are more times when it feels like they are doing them the justice they deserve, and in the end that’s enough to shatter the chains binding them to being mere impersonators.