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Friday, August 25, 2006

Rogue Traders, "In Love Again"/"World Go 'Round" (2005)

You're in a band, and you've made a splash with a solid and distinctive single. What are you doing next? (I mean, after you go to Disneyland.)

Like a sizeable number of people, the first Rogue Traders song I heard, at the end of last year, even though the band was already two albums into their career, was "Voodoo Child." The track was a hit in the group's native Australia then, although it reached #3 in the UK only a few weeks ago. (A US release is rumored to be forthcoming.) The song came on gangbusters from the get-go: a blast of electrorock that relied chiefly on its citation of a guitar riff from Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up," but overlaid on top of it a snarly vocal, courtesy of a Neighbours starlet, natch. I approved.

So far so good, as Sheena Easton would say.

Unfortunately, the second Rogue Traders song I heard was "Watching You." It's by no means a bad track, but it relies too much and too obviously on the same things that "Voodoo Child" does: here once more was a recognizable riff (from "My Sharona"), again re-played by the band rather than sampled, and another vocal that was half-sung, half-barked. I'm always a bit dubious when people dismiss artists by saying that their music sounds the same -- most of the time this really means "the band has a 'sound' and I'm too lazy to sit down and figure out its nuances and variations" -- but at that point, it seemed to me like Rogue Traders tracks were, at the very least, too formulaic.

This wasn't entirely the group's fault; the band's second single in Australia from Here Comes The Drums was "Way To Go!", but it somehow passed me by. But, since that track did worse in the Australian charts than third single "Watching You" (#7 vs. #5), it looks like the band is going with the latter as their follow-up in the UK. A bit of a tough call: there's a reason why "Watching You" did better ("Way To Go!" has energy to spare, but is just too chaotic), but the "Voodoo Child"-"Watching You" one-two punch may convince many listeners, if they're like me, that Rogue Traders is a one-trick pony.

"In Love Again" may be the best compromise. It's in fact slated to be the fifth single in Australia, but if released in the UK next may allow the group to come across as possessing a recognizable sonic template that they are nonetheless capable of tweaking in easily discernible ways. The track is a little slower in tempo, its new wavy synths are more prominent, and there are no grinding licks. But there is still an interpolated hook. About three minutes into the song, as a middle eight, a chorus of "la la la la la"s rise in the background, and gradually become a backdrop against which Natalie sings us out of the song. It's the hook from Tears For Fears' best song, "Head Over Heels" -- itself a bit of a homage to the Beatles -- and it would serve the function of allowing Rogue Traders to re-rely on a familiar snippet of musical history without that snippet being once again a crunchy guitar lick.

(Actually, if Rogue Traders were even more adventurous, they could release "World Go 'Round." This one features the big drums that nowadays mostly remind me of Pet Shop Boys' "Flamboyant," although it obviously dates back further. The guitars are much less sledgehammery, so the song's emphasis is more on the "electro" rather than the "rock." But I see how "World Go 'Round," being much more subtle, would be moving too far away from the kick-in-the-gut approach that "Voodoo Child" established, and which now, for better or worse, has become the group's raison d'ĂȘtre. Fair enough. I'll just enjoy "World Go 'Round" in private.)

2 Comments:

  • "World Go 'Round" = Sandy B made safe for straight people.

    Indeed, I think of Rogue Traders as dance music made safe for straight people, which is part of why they are the guiltiest of pleasures for me. Part of this has to do with my American context; dance music is far more gayified here than it is in other parts of the world. Listening to Rogue Traders, for me, is like being on a European beach -- pleasant, but the fact that every man is wearing a Speedo totally screws over my gaydar, and that bothers the hell out of me.

    BTW, I don't have this reaction when I listen to Tinman's "Eighteen Strings," which makes me think that it's not so much the crunchy guitar that bothers me as much as it is the dominatrixish vox.

    By Anonymous esque, at 9:45 PM  

  • boI initially thought that you were going to say that Rogue Traders = dance music made safe for people who don't like dance music (aka hipsters).

    Anyway, I think you're sort of right, although by this point, when "dance" has seeped into so many aspects of pop and rock, and, more specifically, the look and sound of electrorock acts have moved rapidly from Fischerspooner to the still-quite-threatening-looking-and-sounding Killers to the much-less-so Kelly Clarkson, it seems impossible to resist what you see as the de-gayification of dance music.

    You know, this conversation has some affinities with our discussion about the outing of Lance Bass, although we seem to have switched positions. (Maybe. I haven't thought this through. I mean, even less than usual.)

    By Blogger Brittle, at 12:12 AM  

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