In a bit of a post-Eurovision lull, I thought I should keep up the search for hot European pop music. Of course for a short while, this search brought up the unlikely pairing of Russian lesbians (were they in the end? I can’t keep up) Lena & Yulia who made up controversial dance-pop duo t.A.T.u.. Their hit album “200km/h in the wrong lane” was a hit across Europe, both in Russian and English, and spawned a few big hits, notably UK No.1 “All the things she said”.
It all went a bit quiet after that really, we did get the follow-up album released in UK but it didn’t make much of an impact despite lead single “All about us” breaking the top 10. I never really gave the album much of a listen at the time, so it’s time to sort that out.
08 Dangerous & Moving (intro) – Basically the first bit of the title track we will hear later. It’s a great start, pulsing synths and lots of power. But more on that later…
08 All about us – So this was the lead single, and more drama. Those drums interspersed with the rising vocals are a really ear-catching start to the song. Before you know it, the chorus has arrived. I think it’s not the strongest chorus, maybe a bit like a toned-down version of “All the things she said”, but it has the gravity of a single at least. I think I prefer the verses, they are very simple, there’s a great sense of drama about them. The middle-eight vocals are really gorgeous too, I love when they go into that upper register. Shame the song lacks that special something to put it on the same level as the big “200km/h” singles.
07 Cosmos (Outer space) – Musically not a huge amount has changed since the last album, this sort of demonstrates that. Not that it was a bad sound to start with, indeed it’s nice to have a second helping. It’s still got a distinct feel to the Western or Sweden-fuelled pop music we are used to, it’s bleak Soviet stuff, lots of dark electronic noises and plenty of rocky instrumentation. The melody again is quite simple, I think they are going more for impact than complexity with this one. It does sag a bit towards the end, but it’s still not bad.
07 Loves me not – Is this hetero love? I’m so confused now. A bit of Malchik Gay redux here, with a sparse piano-led intro with some cute vocals. It quickly makes well for more thrashing in the chorus. This segmentation contains the suspicion that there aren’t any fresh ideas here, for now at least. The “He loves me, She loves me not” refrain is memorable, but there’s not much meat to this chorus is there?
09 Friend or foe – I believe this was the second single in the UK, but it missed the top 40. A shame, I think it’s got one of the strongest choruses so far. Post-breakup, the girls are having trouble with another gender-indeterminate ex, and are doubting whether the friendship has survived. Or so I interpret it anyway! That middle-eight with the hot synth instrumental section really helps this one, I love that. Those tended to be the best bits of the big hits, but still it doesn’t quite match those heights, but I still think this one of the strongest songs on the album.
07 Gomenasai – A bit of Japanese now, where did that come from? Well it’s only the title really (it means “Sorry”). A change of pace too, and we slip into a slightly boring ballad. It’s quite sweet really, apologising for everything that led to the end of a relationship. The lyrics again are quite basic, but delivered sweetly. I do like the strings they added on to this one, a nice departure from the usual synths & drums combo we’ve had so much of already.
07 Craving – Sticking to a ballad sound now, with that lovely upper register getting a bit more exercise. It’s a restrained chorus, but it’s got something quite powerful behind it. Reminds me of the rousing Eastern-European torch songs I often see at Eurovision, and it’s a good match. The song itself is again a little basic (is this the cost of an English-language album?). I love that synthy middle-eight though, it’s a bit of a surprise, it’s really perky and cool.
08 Sacrifice – Upping the tempo again now, with a quietly-building track that rolls into another quite repetitive chorus, but it’s so much more of feature in the song than the chorus from “All about us”. OK so it’s a little like business as usual, but I think the verses and choruses complement each other well. I am a sucker for that upper register anyway. The “I…will…sa….cri….fice…” middle-eight is great, and freshens up what is essentially the same chorus we’ve had through the rest of the song.
06 We shout – Bracing myself with a title like that… but hang on, a very sparse opening moment, just some spooky swirling atmospherics. No shouting certainly. It eventually blossoms into a frostily-electronic soundtrack for the almost absent chorus. And that’s how it continues. It’s a bit of a downer really, but for a downtempo it’s at least got a more defined sound like tracks like “Gomenasai”. It’s not exactly a toe-tapping karaoke classic, but variety is the spice of life, right?
06 Perfect enemy – More desolate Soviet synths beeping away like some sci-fi movie. Maybe I’m projecting my expectations of what Russian pop music sounds like, and really it’s not as evocative as I am making out. Again it’s not a busy song, some slow melody over a subtle electro-beat. Just a bit boring really, I like their voices, but it’s just a bit samey by this point in the (quite short) album. It’s like a poorer version of “Sacrifice”.
07 Obizienka Nol – Ooh some Russian finally, maybe they can open up a bit if they are in their native language. Or not. I LOVE the intro though, no idea what they are saying, maybe that’s a good thing after some of the dullness so far. I love the sinister chanting that slowly creeps louder and louder, with a bleak electronic beat emerging from the darkness as we progress. Are they able to have any fast choruses, ever? Most of the songs have only had about 3 words repeated over and over. Is that just how they roll, maybe their memories aren’t that good. I like this, but it doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of the first minute.
08 Dangerous and moving – Again, love that intro, this feels more like the t.A.T.u. I was waiting for. It certainly recaptures the feel of “200km/h”, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights. I LOVE that title too, really intriguing. The song would have benefitted from being much earlier in the tracklist though I think, the production on the choruses isn’t really anything original from the rest of the album, it’s a bit samey. I like the buildup, and it’s certainly a worthy high-point in the album, but it’s not really a high watermark sadly.
So that’s that. It’s only really when I examined this album track by track, instead of having it on in the background at work, that I realise how pedestrian it is. There’s plenty of doom and gloom of course, and I sort of expect Russian pop to be like that. But it turns out it’s not all powerful Soviet anthems, it’s got more in the way of relationship angst than anything. In all honesty I wonder if the translation to English is holding this album back, there just don’t seem to be enough lyrics, it’s all slowly-delivered choruses with not much to them.
I hadn’t expected amazing things from this album, but I do feel a little disappointed. The production for the most part is quite good, atmospheric but not overwhelming. It’s just the lack of variation really, you can’t make a chorus memorable just by throwing drums at it, and that’s something that happens too often for my tastes. I’m still curious about their other output, so maybe I will end up listening to some more after all.
Keepers for the iPod: All about us, Friend or foe, Sacrifice, Dangerous and Moving