Once upon a time, electronic acts were routinely dismissed for fetishising sounds at the expense of musical substance. It’s ironic, then, that Ladytron have written some of the best songs of the 00s while the 21st century rock’n’roll brigade, largely concerned with approaching various sonic blueprints from yesteryear, have rarely managed to pen anything memorable, let alone lasting.
Ladytron’s latest strike Velocifero is their best so far: 53 minutes and not one weak track. The opening ‘Black Cat’ appears to merge three distinct Dario Argento soundtracks into one: a gothic keyboard motif reminiscent of Profondo Rosso, the mechanic 80s beat of Tenebrae, and the stomach-punching synth drum accents of Suspiria. Wow.
‘Ghosts’ is essentially an electro glam rock shuffle. That concept isn’t new, but where Goldfrapp were trying, Ladytron do it effortlessly and emerge with a much more natural sense of melody.
‘I’m Not Scared’, the album’s standout track, features more of Helen Marnie’s typically ethereal vocal lines, so idiosyncratic they leave you under the impression the band have patented their own scales.
While on earlier efforts Mira Aroyo’s harshly spoken vocals exuded the charm of a communist border guard from a 1980s Stallone movie, she utilizes her native Bulgarian in a way that makes the language sound genuinely sexy on the sublime ‘Kletva’. Oddly enough, the song is an old Bulgarian children’s TV tune.
From 2001’s innocent 604 through the soft-focus lensed Light and Magic (2002) and the rock-tinted Witching Hour (2005), Ladytron’s journey has been one from self-consciously naive quirkiness and melancholy-lite towards more intensely bleak scenarios. Velocifero peaks as their darkest album so far, a quality further carved out by a harsher and harder production. Parallels could be drawn to Depeche Mode’s gradual transformation from new wave synth popsters to industrial rock flavoured gloom merchants in the 80s – a band whose outlook was not a million light years away from Ladytron’s.
At the beginning of the decade, the NME granted Ladytron their 15 minutes of exposure. Maybe that was the problem. Ladytron’s slick, detached image seemed to signify style over content, especially in contrast to the simultaneously bourgeoning ‘new rock revolution’ – a random selection of garage punk Johnny-come-latelies and “scruffy” indie rock combos hailed as the real thing. While Miss Kittenesque ditties such as ‘Seventeen’ found some resonance with the electroclash crowd, it went largely unnoticed that Ladytron were capable of writing classic songs such as ‘Blue Jeans‘, an understated tune that would have made The Velvet Underground and Nico proud. To this day, Ladytron has not achieved more than a very solid cult following.
Given the quality of their subsequent efforts, however, and especially with Velocifero upping the ante in the songwriting department once more, there really is no reason why Ladytron shouldn’t be one of the biggest acts in the world.