When a band chooses a charismatic, but bold frontwoman, it risks living in her shadow. Regardless of how talented the rest of the band members are, the focal point is the lead vocalist who can work the stage. Think of Garbage, a band comprised of accomplished musicians — the drummer [Butch Vig] produced Nevermind and Siamese Dream for goodness’ sake! To this day I still hear people refer to Garbage as “her” because the focal point is Shirley Manson, an impressive artist who deserves recognition. Yet, listening to the band’s discography, you can’t deny the group effort and dynamic.
Listening to Wild Young Hearts, the sophomore album from London’s Noisettes, I feel as if I’m witnessing a vocal showcase of frontwoman Shingai Shoniwa, with “the band” simply backing her. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge issue, so long as the album’s good (and for the most part this one is), but here it bothers me because I suspect the Noisettes are somewhere in the corner, holding back. Just what, I’m not certain.
Opening track “Sometimes” is the kind of breezy summer track that too many artists seem afraid to make. From the acoustic guitar to the soft brushing of the drums, this is a warm-up song to ease us into the Noisettes’ world. Shoniwa has a powerful voice that could blow out your speakers if she wanted to, but to her credit she keeps her style simple and sultry here. We’d be hearing gratuitous American Idol¬esque pitch shifts from most artists with her pipes. The restraint is admirable.
Then comes the title track, and the band’s fondness for genre bending comes into play. The crunchy guitars leading into the chorus are from the garage rock playbook, but the refrain salutes 1960’s beach rock. It’s enjoyable and pleasant, but that’s it. They don’t push any of the diverse elements of the song beyond their most basic, inoffensive levels. Contrast that with “Saturday Night”, a contemporary twist on the pop/electronica Depeche Mode helped popularize, with an added sparkle of glam rock. Kevin Barnes would be proud. Drummer Jamie Morrison flexes his muscle with precise, disciplined work that drives the song without dominating it. This is the joyous release we’ve been waiting for.
“Don’t Upset the Rhythm” also taps into the same vibe of a band unafraid to indulge their varied tastes. The track sounds like The Go! Team’s catchier work put through the polished filter of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. You have a catchy guitar riff, the flighty keyboards and the playground chorus screaming, “Go, baby! Go, baby! Go!” It’s an effortless pop song that was big in the UK and hopefully receives the same attention elsewhere.
Other songs fall back into the nice-but-forgettable category. Take “Never Forget You”, which fits too comfortably in the realm of Amy Winehouse and Duffy, without the former’s sauciness and the latter’s peculiar vocals. “We were mischievous, and you were always wearing black/I was so serious, you know my boyfriend’s mother almost had a heart attack” fill the meter, but they don’t add any dimension to the tune. Noisettes would do well to listen to RES, an overlooked artist from the early part of the decade whose stellar debut, How I Do, blended R&B, pop, hip-hop and rock effortlessly. Of course, RES was but a blip on the average radar, so maybe there’s something to be said for playing it safe.
By the album’s end, you realize you had plenty fun, but only a slight majority of the tracks are memorable. Wild Young Hearts is an album worth picking up, but from listening to the high points, you’ll wonder if it could’ve been a must-have album you’d force your friends to listen to. Instead, it’ll suffice as something you put on when you’re driving with the windows down and singing when no one’s watching.