D- | 03.13.12 | COLUMBIA | CD
The Ting Tings' song "Shut Up and Let Me Go" was a tune that would get inexplicably stuck in my head. It was the right blend of catchy and annoying. I would forget that it existed until it wormed its way into my temporal lobe and then graciously exited a few hours later. One might think that getting the song stuck in my head was a sign that I should seek out the rest of the band's catalogue. But, as catchy as that song was, I always assumed it was a one off. The Ting-Tings couldn't possibly turn that obnoxious faux-sassiness into an enjoyable full album experience. Or could they? If Sounds From Nowheresville is any indication the answer is: no, no they can not.
The album is an awkward blend of arena rock, synth pop, dance, reggae, and, strangely enough, folk. Even if these songs were excellent representations of their respective genres (which they are not), this album would be a mess. There is no way to know what kind of band the Ting Ting's are. Based on Sounds From Nowheresville I would say they are something like a Doritos variety pack; if every flavor in the pack is bland and undesirable.
To be fair, there are some parts of the record that I enjoyed. The rhythms on "Hang it Up" and "Give it Back" are crisp and driving. However, those rhythms are directly lifted from other songs. The beat on "Hang it Up" is not just eerily similar to the one on Dizzee Rascal's "Fix Up, Look Sharp", I am pretty sure it is exactly the same (the fact that they sullied such an excellent song makes it more egregious). Similarly, fans of LCD Soundsystem may or may not enjoy hearing "Give it Back", the Ting Ting's tweaked version of "North American Scum". I'm not sure if this was coincidence, intentional reference, or awkward plagiarism. In any case, it's bad.
Songs like “Soul Killing” and “Guggenheim” could have turned out as spunky rock jams (a la No Doubt, or The White Stripes) but they are dragged down by the pervasive cheesiness. At the end of “Guggenheim” Katie White starts to scream the chorus' lyrics, hoping maybe that that will improve their efficacy. It reminds me of those concerts when a band, while playing to an almost empty room, tries to inject emotional schtick into a song that is void of emotion. “Soul Killing” has a bit more energy to it; but why, in God's name, did they feel the need to include the squeaking rocking chair as part of the rhythm section. At least with Trillville it made sense. In this case, painfully misguided production ruined what otherwise might have been a salvageable track.
Whereas We Started Nothing, The Ting Ting's first album, had some pockets of grooviness that people were able to latch on to, Sounds From Nowheresville feels like a deflated balloon. It seems that the duo, instead of trying to write the catchy bass lines that arguably make their sound work, has opted to try and expand their songwriting breadth. Hence, songs like “Help” and “In Your Life”. In attempting to be moving and poignant, these tracks simply sound contrived. Katie White's slapstick lyricism, which works in some instances, does not lend itself to emotional depth.
The title of this album is painfully accurate. It's as if the band knew that the album had no coherent focal point―no backbone. The Ting Ting's are not inherently awful; but this record most definitely is.