Nico here, reporting from Mr. Struggan’s Possum Alley bureau in Washington, D.C. In keeping with our new schedule, Mr. Struggan has assigned me a review of Ra Ra Riot’s new album, Beta Love, this week. Tuesday morning, I stayed home with a fever of 100.8. Beta Love did not soothe my senses as well as other music could have; it sounds like a quarter life crisis.
The main problem with this release is that it does not offer much sonic or thematic breadth. Lack of lyrical ingenuity could be forgiven if the sounds were more convincing.
“Wilderness” shows me something, but then, the verse line’s cheesy, repetitive arpeggio drops in. It doesn’t give the listener much to work with. I can’t tell whether this is minimalist, or just bad. I’m leaning towards the latter. ”I Shut Off” is supposed to be some kind of final-track-of-the-album anthem, but it lacks instrumental backbone. Aside from a few tracks, this album is pretty flat. “When I Dream” showed a lot of promise as the album’s single. As lead vocalist Wes Miles switches between alto and falsetto, it creates interplay that is absent from the rest of the album.
Synth rock can be a great genre from bands to tap into. Add some synths and beat, and your average rock group can fill arenas, get people moving, and reach a broader pool of listeners. This summer, Passion Pit’s sophomore album Gossamer attained a broader reach emotionally and musically than the group’s debut album, showing that the genre doesn’t result in being pigeonholed. Ra Ra Riot does not have the same success in their reinvention.
One might expect that after three albums, Ra Ra Riot would know a thing or two about restraint and focus. Many groups come to a point when they jump the shark in their creative direction. Perhaps Ra Ra Riot is there now.
Mr. Struggan sends his Low Regards.