Album Review: The Ting Tings – Sounds From Nowheresville

[Columbia; 2012]

Many will know The Ting Tings as premium advertisement / montage fodder, off the back of their repetitive teenage bubble-gum pop hits “That’s Not My Name” and “Shut Up and Let Me Go” way back in 2008. Those two basic catchy tracks reverberating tirelessly on commercial radio sounded fun and different compared to some of the more polished chart-topping dross at first, but soon became infuriatingly monotonous as lead singer Katie White’s pleas to remember her name bore deep down into the public consciousness, likely causing many to throw their car stereos into the road. It was quite easy not to take The Ting Tings seriously; most of their debut album We Started Nothing was clearly aimed at the tween demographic providing down to earth yet very basic social commentary on relationships and other less hard hitting topics like dancing. So when The Ting Tings announced that for their sophomore release they’d gone to Berlin to mature and discover their sound, it was hard for the casual observer of their music not to immediately shrug off their efforts based on their previous output.

Let’s get one thing straight: Sounds From Nowheresville is certainly not a progressive techno masterpiece, an impressive evolution of kraut-rock, or some kind of recreation of David Bowie’s Low, despite the playing up of the Berlin story. Although, to the duo’s credit, the record does show a maturity of sorts into more interesting soundscapes, largely leaving behind the ‘tunes’ they became known for. Opener, “Silence,” is heaving and meaty, a pulsating track that builds and builds into a glorious explosion of noise with Katie’s vocals packing more passion and meaning than ever before. To all the band’s naysayers, it’s a semi-convincing wakeup call that there just might be something special about The Ting Tings.

Unfortunately it’s largely downhill from here, as the following track “Hit Me Down Sonny” is nothing short of abysmal. The lyrics are cringe worthy and nonsensical; “It’s honest, I’m ticking those boxes / Make out like Speedy Gonzales Finito, a liar, Iya iya think I’m on fire” being a prime example of Katie White’s blind flailing at lyrical meaning. “Soul Killing,” meanwhile, combines embarrassing dad reggae grooves with a feeble unmemorable chorus, leading ultimately to a hollow soulless track even employing some faux-rebellious children chants of “they will never hold us down” to a weedy and bemusing effect.

There are however a couple of highlights, hinting at what could have been a great pop album had some ideas been explored further. “Guggenheim” acts as a largely spoken ode to a cheating ex-boyfriend, which seems nonchalant at first before erupting into a shouted chorus complimented with rapid cowbells and crashing cymbals, showing a more emotive side to White’s lyrics about her own wrongdoings in love which are largely absent elsewhere. If there is one thing it is difficult to knock The Ting Tings for, it’s their attitude of rebellion and willingness to shout about their problems in a pop song, although again the impressive gusto they portray doesn’t always go to plan. “Hang It Up” has a catchy guitar riff, a youthful video set in a skatepark and a chorus that does actually ring in your head without slowly dissipating. It’s as close as The Ting Tings get to another anthem to capture the angsty teen/moms trying to stay cool markets which they played so well in the past with “That’s Not My Name.” But, ultimately, they then ruin the track by allowing drummer Jules DeMartino to rap – incredibly badly – thus making the whole thing feel about 4 years out of date.

The Ting Tings have tried various things on this album. To be rebellious and punk (“Hang It Up,” “Ain’t Got Shit”), to rip off mid-’00s dance acts like LCD Soundsystem (“Give It Back,” “One By One”), to make grand walls of noise style pop tunes (“Silence,” “Guggenheim”) and to play it safe for the mainstream with songs that sounds like Jessie J without a voice or any soul (“Day To Day”). There’s virtue in this album, but you have to look quite hard for it; The Ting Tings are certainly not the instant pop band they used to be but whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen with future output.