The Ting Tings hit big in 2007 with early material like the eventual UK #1 single ‘That’s Not My Name’, a bitter-edged bubblegum singalong that went platinum here. Cut to today, and the English duo of drummer Jules de Martino and singer Katie White (each handles more instruments than those) are finally back with a follow-up to the well-oiled singles machine that was 2008’s We Started Nothing
The final product was self-produced with a genre-jumping “playlist” mentality, after eight months of working in Berlin yielded a scrapped album described by White as “Euro-pop shite.” She and de Martino relocated to East London and then the south of Spain to conceive Sounds From Nowheresville
; an album that does indeed cater to many a demographic, whether one at a time or all at once.
An easy criticism of The Ting Tings is the potential throwaway nature of their songs – they pack such simple, formidable choruses that we seem to know them by heart after the first listen. Nowheresville
doesn’t shy away from those instant hits, which to me usually have a certain dark snideness as well as a lasting charm. But it does follow a mostly trim and upbeat first half with songs more sombre and wandering. It doesn’t all work, but the best bits shine brightly.
We start with the slow and moody ‘Silence’, a song that’s easy to regard as Berlin-influenced. While some poppy synths arrive midway, it’s newly expansive and doesn’t go straight for the jugular. It soon fades into the rear-view, however, with the one-two punch of the chanting, hip-hop-damaged ‘Hit Me Down Sonny’ and lead single ‘Hang It Up’. The latter packs a rapped bit by de Martino, nods to the seminal ‘Rapture’ by obvious heroes Blondie and has a chorus akin to a distortion-free Sleigh Bells, who also mix guitar, beats and everything else.
It’s a single that operates on several levels, and its junkyard urgency continues into the grunge-garage burner ‘Give It Back’. Later comes the reggae-informed ‘Soul Killing’ and the dance-music digression ‘One by One’, both of which offer something different without being the least bit challenging.
The best song, if among the least immediate, is ‘Guggenheim’: it starts with retro spoken-word and then adds likeminded harmonies. It’s The Shangri-La’s by way of The White Stripes or The Kills, topped with a defiant chorus (“This time I’m gonna get it right / I’m gonna paint my face at the Guggenheim”
) and a funky break that can’t help recalling Amerie’s ‘1 Thing’. I’d love to see this become a hit.
The only place the album falters is the final three tracks. The mall-pop ballad ‘Day to Day’ feels more calculated than the rest and, despite White opening her heart, the acoustic-guitar wobble of ‘Help’ seems faceless by comparison. White best commands our attention when keeping up a brash yet bubbly façade – even if there’s deeper stuff happening underneath – and these two and the quiet closer ‘In Your Life’ proves that playing it serious isn’t very Ting Tings.
No matter: the bulk of Nowheresville
stays giddy, insistent and perfectly simple.
Words by Doug Wallen. More at thevine.com.au