Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: 2009, dragonette, martina sorbara, music, p. viktor
Fixin To Thrill ••••½
Capitalising on the minor success of their debut album, 2007’s Galore, Canadian group Dragonette return with possibly one of the best electro-pop albums of the year. Largely dispensing with the electric guitars and made-for-American-radio sound that appeared on much of their debut, singer Martina Sorbara, husband/producer Dan Kurtz, guitarist Chris Hugget and drummer Joel Stouffer have reinvented their sound into a spliced up palette of ’80s synths, hefty beats and pulsating basslines that marry huge, hook-laden choruses with the kind of lyrical chutzpah Sorbara has become known for. This new direction might have had something to do with their recent collaboration with Cyndi Lauper on last year’s Bring Ya To The Brink; the result, ‘Grab A Hold’, was a wonderfully retro ’80s number that called to mind Lauper’s own She’s So Unusual, and it is from this classic album that Fixin To Thrill takes many of its musical cues.
What is most startling about Dragonette’s transformation is the sheer amount of innovation and experimentation apparent in the arrangements. Adopting a sort of copy-and-paste approach to writing and production, they have confidently crafted a dozen songs that mesh together through solid melodies and playful lyrics and which merrily hop through genres from disparate musical eras; witness ’90s rave, glam rock, bubblegum guitar-pop, glacial modern electro and ’80s synth-funk. It is this fearlessness that marks Fixin To Thrill out from many of the other electro-pop pretenders who have come on the scene in the past year, and may well cause a few sleepless nights for the likes of Kylie and Madonna, who will no doubt be sweating desperately to add Dragonette to their Rolodexes.
The first half of the album is frontloaded with platinum-plated pop – first single ‘Fixin To Thrill’ is a relentless orgy of synths, with Sorbara’s Karen O-like vocals making comparisons to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and their recent electronic conversion inevitable, but perhaps highlighting the latter as mere electronic dilettantes. ‘Gone Too Far’ somehow manages to splice together hillbilly banjos with Euro-disco choruses and not sound horrendous, and is a shimmering example of Dragonette’s brilliantly constructed chorus hooks that are at once both fresh and familiar. But if any song on Fixin To Thrill is going to ensure them commercial success it’s most likely ‘Liar’, an understated, stripped-back house number that wraps a sinuous bassline around Sorbara’s voice, joined by xylophones, whistles and wonderfully tight harmonies before a sexy chorus suddenly rains down like the musical equivalent of a chocolate fountain.
And the fun doesn’t stop there. ‘Stupid Grin’ manages to ape Shania Twain’s ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman’ before exploding into a Goldfrapp-style glam-rock stomp. The middle eight features a cheeky call-and-response with a children’s choir, before hitting the listener over the head with, yes, more synths, and an astonishingly infectious chorus. ‘Easy’ is completely stripped of all the musical gimmicks that have come before it, sounding like an early ’90s house track with Sorbara in a less posturing mood but no less effective, perhaps best recalling Kylie’s ‘Slow’. ‘Pick Up the Phone’ sounds like a classic Cyndi Lauper track (her huge vocal can almost be heard here) with a power-pop treat that yet again shows off Dragonette’s songwriting craft. ‘We Rule The World’ also calls to mind Lauper, mimicking her early hit ‘All Through The Night’ in the intro before gliding seductively into a bed of synthesisers.
The weaker songs come toward the album’s close. ‘Big Sunglasses’ retreads sonic territory of earlier songs and its preoccupation with luxury living and fame sound a little disingenuous here, while ‘Okay Delore’ is pure Go-Go’s guitar pop and is perhaps one of the album’s more throwaway tracks. Things are brilliantly redeemed, however, by the final trio of songs. ‘Come On Be Good’ welds together guitars, honky-tonk pianos and electronic bass to create a stuttering funk odyssey, while ‘You’re A Disaster’ highlights the versatility of the group with the acoustic guitars and Sorbara’s glassy vocal echoing Kate Bush’s ‘Army Dreamers’. Going out on a high, ‘Don’t Be Funny’ steals the bassline from Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, stapling onto it a bouncy, euphoric chorus which only leaves the affirmative impression that Fixin To Thrill deserves to be Dragonette’s breakout album. A classic pop record that’s deferent to its antecedents while forging ahead in completely new directions, it’s breathless, creative and ultimately successful in its ambition to thrill, and certainly gives the current roster of electro-pop stars a run for their money.
UK release date: 26/10/09; www.myspace.com/dragonette
‘Fixin To Thrill’
‘Pick Up The Phone’
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