Sounds From Nowheresville
The Ting Tings
34:00 min • Columbia Records • February 27, 2012
In 1977, ’60s girl group The Shangri-La’s reformed, and while record companies wanted them to record a disco album, they had dreams of sounding like Patti Smith. Had the record execs shared their vision, the result may have sounded like the astonishingly brilliant ‘Guggenheim’, the 5th track on Sounds From Nowheresville, the 2nd studio album from Manchester duo The Ting Tings. It’s hard to believe this is the same band that dominated adverts and airwaves with ‘That’s Not My Name’ in 2008. With its spoken word verses and screamed chorus, it has an edge unlike anything else I have heard so far this year. The Ting Tings have been a marmite band since ‘That’s Not My Name’ burst on to the scene, and I have to admit I loved We Started Nothing, their debut album. All pop rock riffs, danceable drums and Shampoo-esque vocals, it may have been commercial but I lapped it up! So like a lot of people, I was disappointed with the Calvin Harris mixed single ‘Hands’, released in 2010. The band took the public’s reaction so seriously they scrapped the entire album and went from Berlin to Spain to record an alternative.
The remarkable Sounds From Nowhereville is the result.
The fan drawn cover art (the band as monochromatic skeletal zombies in bright street wear) and the opener ‘Silence’, are clear signals that the pop gloss of ‘Hands’ is far behind us. The resulting album sounds as cool as we all wish Girls Aloud actually were.
Hold your tongue now
And let them all listen to your silence
sings Katie White over a minimal but epic backing, and the track builds and falls with machine gun drums & garage rock guitars, reminisent of New York’s indie outfit Sleigh Bells. And ‘Silence’ is indicative of the rest of the album.
The Ting Tings are, like most great pop songwriters, musical magpies – and as they borrowed from others to craft their sound on We Started Nothing (notably Shampoo and Ian Dury & The Blockheads) so their influences show through on this album. Lead single ‘Hang It Up’ is Salt-N-Pepa via Shampoo. ‘Give It Back’ is ’50s lo fi rock and roll via Swedish band Junior Senior. ‘Soul Killing’ is ska via No Doubt and Sonic Boom Six (over the squeaking of bed springs undeniably coital in its rhythm). ‘One By One’ is a cracking electro pop tune via Little Boots, and ‘Help’ is a gorgeous post rock ballad via Mogwai. And despite the dissonant and varied styles, the album holds together magnificently and we’re faced with one of the best pop albums of recent years.
The band stated they wanted the album to have a “mix tape” feel, insomuch that from track to track people wouldn’t believe they were listening to the same band, and they manage to achieve this without the songs feeling disparate. Regardless of style, we understand how we got from A to B, and the band sound as at home thrashing through punk rock’n’roll as they do dancing through the electro synths.
Pop is a dirty word in the music industry, and there is a danger that this album, like most truly great pop albums, will get ignored. So many genuinely brilliant but edgy pop albums (Kylie Minogue’s Impossible Princess, Madonna’s Erotica) have been overlooked by serious critics on release and rediscovered years later to be profoundly inventive, and for this very reason I don’t see this blazing up the charts in the way We Started Nothing did. I personally love a good edgy pop album, and this ticks all my boxes, so we’ll just have to see if the rest of the world is prepared to listen to what Katie and Jules have to say. Who knows where they will take us next, but they will have to go a long way to better Sounds From Nowheresville.