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Album Review: Noisettes - Contact

17th September 2012

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It has been three years since the Noisettes stuck gold with hit single Don't Upset the Rhythm. They return with new album, Contact, minus a member and attempting to build on their success with a wider musical palette and the same sense of adventure that has maintained them thus far.

The Noisettes are a classic example of the 'I liked them before they sold out for fame' band. It doesn't seem to be widely known, but their debut came not in 2009 but rather in 2007 with the garage punk album What's the Time Mr. Wolf? It was a magnificent first effort, filled with frantic, thrashing rock tunes and the feral howling of singer Shingai Shoniwa standing out in particular. And no one paid it much attention.

Undeterred, the group attempted a foray into the mainstream two years on and it worked - Don't Upset the Rhythm was so far removed from their earlier work that it sounded like a different band entirely. But the new formula was a success: the single reached number two in the UK chart and the subsequent album Wild Young Hearts itself entered the top 10. Ultimately, though, it felt as though the trio had simply dumbed down their original sounds in favour of something more radio-friendly: Wild Young Hearts was not a particularly strong album.

Their latest release, however, is somewhat better. Having dropped drummer Jamie Morrisson, they are no longer really a band, but rather a songwriting duo who rely more on orchestral arrangements and backing musicians than their own individual skills. This is no bad thing - Contact kicks off with a introduction straight out of a film score before segueing into the '70s disco stomp of I Want You Back, which contains an undeniably catchy, singalong chorus.

From there, we are presented with a veritable collage of sounds, stretching beyond the realm of pop music, seemingly into as many genres as the pair can conceive. This happens often within the same song: Travelling Light begins as a piano ballad and ends with a soft dubstep beat, while Let the Music Play is glittering pop with a motown interlude.

Yet for all their experimentation, the Noisettes sound at their best when being truly coherent. That Girl is a genuinely well-written song that would not have sounded out of place in the 1950s, and the folksy Ragtop Car is perhaps the album's prettiest moment. Which presents a paradox: most of the album's appeal is in its experimental side, but this is in conflict with the duo's attempts to craft smooth, well-rounded pieces of music. The result is unfortunate - too many of the tracks descend into repetitve, mid-tempo disco beats, and it feels as though the work has run its course before its conclusion.

While there are indeed positives here - Shoniwa's voice, in particular, has lost none of its flair - Contact feels like a missed opportunity. If the Noisettes could only ignore mainstream expectations, they have the potential to create some of the most original music of recent times. As it stands, they have offered up a competent but uninspiring work that in the end is a victim of its own self-consciousness.

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