Tuesday, November 1, 2011

REVIEW// Ladytron: Gravity the Seducer

     'Gravity the Seducer' is the fifth studio album from Ladytron, the Liverpudlian electro-pop quartet who have made quite a name for themselves since their formation in the final rasping breaths of the twentieth century. Their dozen year career has offered them the chance to settle into a comfortable stylistic rut, but alas, the unwavering wheels of change seem to be ones the band are more than eager to ride. 2002's 'Light and Magic' refined an edge cut by their debut record, while 'The Witching Hour' crept along with haunting shoegaze-infected synths. The group's masterpiece 'Velocifero' took a heavy step in yet another direction, coaxed by guest Alessandro Cortini, of Nine Inch Nails fame, and while he returns to assist on this effort, his influence is much subtler. The point I'm coming to is that 'Gravity the Seducer' opts for another shift in sound, and one I fear a tad off-target. While Ladytron seem to have incorporated all the grounded, murky creepiness of 'The Witching Hour', their new airy and atmospheric exploration holds little reward. The two different styles clash. Warm songs and icy ambient numbers tip the scales like a seesaw, forming an unbalance within the album that bothers me. That's not to say it's a bad collection of tracks, because it's most definitely not. Individually, nearly every one of these twelve songs shine, but when placed side by side the colours just refuse to blend. For me, Ladytron are in a purgatory of sorts. A transitional period that could, given a polish, reap a crop that could surpass even the harvest that 'Velocifero' bore. But, as of now, an uncertainly rears its ugly head and detracts from the album's beautiful potential.
     All that being said, there are some tracks here that prove Ladytron's longevity. 'White Elephant' opens the album, a song so much warmer than expected, swaying with a melody that simply works and stunning with notes that touch the soul. That ethereal, thought-provoking lyricism we've come to love has still managed to find its way through the clutter of sonic change, sang with an undeniable yet ultimately misplaced passion. The vocals really were, and still are one of the few things I can never dislike about a Ladytron album. Here in particular, the singing is embedded so far into the music. The synths intertwine over the top, wriggling their unfaltering way through the very fabric of the record. It's true that during four of the twelve tracks vocals are done away with all together, but this neither takes away nor adds anything much to 'Gravity the Seducer', in my mind at least.
     'White Gold' follows after 'Mirage' as an absolute classic. Staying true to their older sounds, these few minutes are brimming with unnerving, menacing vocals, layered atop a bed of glitched beats and vast, epic synths. Both 'Ace of Hz' and 'Moon Palace' attempt to do the same, but end up lacking in heart. Something about them feels a little tired, almost as though Ladytron were simply conforming to the sensibilities of a past track that went down okay. While taking inspiration from past work is acceptable, blatant redistribution is not. The melody of '90 Degrees' is eerily recognisable, before research reveals 'All the Way...', a track from 'The Witching Hour' that progresses with suspicious similarity. 'Ambulances' however, as the echoing, drum-ridden ballad it is, highlights the fantastic lyricism once again, pulling the album back from the brink to become my favourite number here. The wailing, emotional scope of the song lifts it to the heavens and yet threatens to drop it back down to earth. It's a sheer, beautiful wall of sound, delicate to the touch and yet so very inspirational. Still, in it's brilliance, the other songs appear that little bit more dissapointing. You realise what amazing music Ladytron can imagine, and it's frustrating...
     The last few minutes draw the album to an apt conclusion, but I'm afraid I don't feel the immediate urge to listen again. As you may know, I like to listen to an record in its entirety, from front to back, as the artist intended. In the age of buying single tracks and shuffling, this habit may be devoid of followers, yet the facts remain. Ladytron have crafted something that glitters with a certain brilliance; flashing in the darkness every once in a while to reveal potential breath-taking in its size. An uncertain, uneven balance however causes that light to falter. With time, the new dirt path that Ladytron have decided to follow may eventually get paved in stone, but until then, I fear I will lend my ears to 'Gravity the Seducer' on very rare an occasion. If you wish, buy the album here after streaming 'White Elephant' below. Also, go and check out the record cover above, 'cos it really is a wonder!