| No, Ladytron are not turning into late-period Depeche Mode. Rather 'Witching Hour', their third album, is the first to give a truly rounded insight into what Danny Hunt, Reuben Wu, Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo are all about. They are still starched and synthetic, cool and collected. But, unlike '604' or 'Light & Magic', at its core 'Witching Hour' is wild and unstable; a synth-pop record which - largely due to Ladytron now touring with a live drummer (always better than a dead one) and a real-life bassist - rages with a new unbridled energy. |
Mira nods: "The live set-up has brought out the punchier, rawer side of us, and 'Witching Hour' does rock harder. But, I wouldn't say this is our rock record." If only because it sounds so odd. It is not so much their previous studio albums, as the 'Softcore Jukebox' compilation (My Bloody Valentine, Wire, The Fall etc.) that informs the feel and swirling atmospheres of 'Witching Hour'. Post-electroclash, it is the sound of an electronic band rediscovering their leftfield indie roots, experimenting, enlarging their palette of sound. And Ladytron are all the better for it.
"We've never been interested in being a trad. rock band or trad. anything," insists Mira. "Everything goes through a 'Ladytron filter'. I've always been into Krautrock bands like Neu! and Can, and I love the fact that I can't really tell what instruments they used. It doesn't really matter." Indeed. The beauty of 'Witching Hour' is not in guessing what instrument made which sound, it is in marvelling at how Ladytron have produced such a striking set of pop songs.
'Sugar', 'Destroy Everything You Touch', 'High Rise'... are as strident as 'Seventeen', but come wreathed in twisted, snarling, intoxicating FX. Elsewhere, there's a killer ballad, 'Beauty Two', a perfect (neo-gothic Northern Soul) pop song, 'International Dateline', and even one track, 'Last One Standing', which claims a country 'n' western heritage. "It's a more confident,
"...broken glass is luxury..."
After the otherworldly experience of 'Light & Magic' (recording in L.A., extensive touring in the US, turning down stadium support slots with Marilyn Manson), 'Witching Hour' necessitated getting back to basics; cutting the party dead and come September 2003 - assisted in their sonic exploration by producer Jim Abbiss - going deep into the process of recording.
Danny and Reuben had both recently moved back to Liverpool and so Ladytron set up camp in Elevator, home to The Coral and The Zutons. Distractions were few and far between, Ladytron too busy pulling off extraordinary feats of gymnastics (ask Reuben how they got the guitar sound on 'Sugar') and building drum kits from boxes, dustbin-lids and keys (check Keith Yorke's Fun Boy Three-ish rhythms on 'AMTV'), to think about partying. Outside of their local EVOL club night, at least. "I wish I could say that a tiger escaped from Liverpool Zoo came into the studio and Helen tamed it with her voice, but alas no," joshes Mira. "It was a calm process. We had a daily routine. Helen and I were in charge of going out and buying the wine."
"Friday is the fever, Monday the destroyer."
After the endless touring Stateside, this sudden regimentation took some adjustment. "When we came back," says Danny, "we felt completely trapped in this never ending weekend. It felt like that for quite a while."
And eventually you had a long, heavy Monday crash?
He laughs: "Well, no. I think the Monday has only just started. It was the Sunday evening feeling that lasted for about six months."
If that restlessness, that melancholy obviously informs seismic processed rocker 'Weekend' - wherein Ladytron return to a favourite theme; the decadent escapism of the discotheque juxtaposed with dismal bedsit reality - then it doesn't explain the bleak, tearful, nightmarish tone of the rest of the album. The beautiful 'International Dateline' is a case in point. It sashays along on a neo-Northern beat, has hooks to spare, will be - if there's any justice in the world... which there isn't - a CD:UK-sized hit, but those words... "Woke up in the evening, to the sound of screaming," sings Helen, sweetly frozen in fear. "Through the walls it was bleeding... all over me."
Ladytron never explain: "We never talk about specific meanings. It just ruins it." But, they recognise that 'Witching Hour', with its ghosts, eerie imagery and its "daylight is the enemy" proclamations, is their darkest record to date. Even if they don't always know why. "I guess we still haven't learned how to write happy songs," says Mira, smiling wryly. "Happy songs never made me happy. A lot of sad songs have, though."
"...a transparent sound mapping distraction..."
If 'Witching Hour' is dark it is also, more importantly, a deeply emotional experience. "There's always been this misconception that we're cold and robotic," says Helen (a Madonna fanatic), "but people couldn't be further away from the truth. Hopefully this record will change that."
Reuben is equally perturbed: "We've always had a compassionate backdrop to the songs. That's what made them so good!"
By Danny's own admission, however, if that soulfulness has always been there, 'Witching Hour' is the first Ladytron album to make it explicit: "This album is more emotional. Previously, tracks that I considered very emotional, people would hear as being very detached. I don't know what it is this time - whether it's the songs or the production - but there are spine-tingling moments that weren't there before." Such moments are everywhere; the fraught atmosphere of 'International Dateline', the yearning vulnerability of 'Beauty Two' (Helen's first, stunning, contribution as a songwriter) or the barely suppressed anger of 'Destroy Everything You Touch'. "It is definitely," says Danny, searching for the right words, "more humane."
"...a new day dawning..."