Ladytron, the semi-international masters of electroclash (for the uninitiated, imagine Garbage with more crackle, or Kraftwerk with more snap and pop), has returned to form with their third full-length album. Since most observers – and the band’s own press – seem intent on calling the album the best of a series, I guess it would only be fair to say it’s not.
Witching Hour isn’t bad. It doesn’t really suffer from the indie virus of being “worse than their first record,” either. It’s a remarkably different album, with more claustrophobic guitar and less dance floor chic. And with the two closing songs, “White Heat Generation” and “All the Way,” the band notches an odd turn to the aforementioned Shirley Manson vehicle with a droning shimmer that in the latter song sounds like the ghost of Brian Eno running on his own faraway beach.
But something about the album leaves me cold. And I think it’s the lack of immediately destructive pop sense. “Flicking Your Switch” from 2002’s Light and Magic drills into your skull like a babelfish translating a cheesy Eurobeat drum and key combo into a compelling heartbeat in a cold, cold song. On their debut album, songs like “The Way that I Found You” and “Discotraxx” did the same thing.
So does that mean that Witching Hour is a boring follow-up from a band that’s lost it? I don’t think so. Underneath a darker veneer of synthy wash, there seems to be a deeper sense of musicality driving these songs. The instrumental “CMYK” is as beautiful an instrumental as the band has performed and “International Dateline” is a creepy retelling of those Ladytron hits of the past.
With any luck the oft-heralded progenitors of electroclash are outgrowing the faddy nature of their label and twisting toward some sort of intelligent digital music goal on the horizon.