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The decision to include Ladytron’s ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’ in the opening scenes of the American Vogue documentary The September Issue, soundtracking a montage of Anna Wintour surveying catwalks and collections, was a genius and fitting choice. Encased behind her trademark sunglasses and framed by that hard-hat hairstyle, the adjectives you could apply to Nuclear Wintour could also be used to describe Ladytron’s aesthetic.
Pop cultural, chilly, detached and constructed to intimidate – with just the occasional flash of a knowing grin – the once omnipresent (even writing songs for Christina Aguilera) Eurocentric four-piece return from an eight-year break. Vocalist Helen Marnie released two above average solo albums in between 2011’s Gravity the Seducer and Ladytron, their self-titled sixth album, but that was it. As a sign of the times, Ladytron was a partially crowd-funded release – one which was thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, worth the wait.
This record doesn’t necessarily tamper with Ladytron’s established formula, but the band have tightened up the melodic lethargy that, combined with a somewhat leaden and impenetrable production style, left their last two albums floundering. Although overlong, lo-fi opener ‘Until The Fire’ is a weak start, by the third or fourth track it’s clear this album has some of the band’s strongest work since 2004’s Witching Hour.
Songs like the Kraftwerk-indebted ‘Far From Home’, ‘Tower of Glass’ and ‘The Mountain’ are all mid-tempo and take time to make an impact. ‘Tower of Glass’ in particular rewards with repeated listens and is built around an eerie, tumbling synth melody that perfectly captures the melancholy of the line ‘falling from your tower of glass’ – bringing images of JG Ballard’s High-Rise to mind.
‘Paper Highways’ and ‘The Animals’ tap into the spirit of the band’s earlier material and are instant with bigger, poppier choruses despite the darkness of subject matter.
Where Ladytron becomes brilliant is when the band successfully push out of their comfort zone, and dramatically magnify some elements of their DNA whilst replacing other aspects completely.
‘Dead Zone’ is a menacing and paranoid electro-stomper with Aroyo and Marnie’s heightened and clipped vocals swirling inwards toward some sort of psychotic breakdown. It is wonderfully over the top and one of their best songs to date.
When closing ballad ‘Tomorrow Is Another Day’ incorporates percussion from late-80s R&B, the surprise is that it fits so perfectly into the band’s already defined sound whilst simultaneously being a million miles away from it.
As with all Ladytron albums there is some filler present (the mawkishly campy ‘Horrorscope’, the constantly stalling ‘Figurine’), and although there is not enough here to have blighted the overall experience, a decision to reduce the overstuffed 13 track list to 10 would have made the difference from a very good album to an excellent one. As it currently stands though, Ladytron is one of Ladytron’s most essential records and one that builds on their surprisingly long tenure as one of the greatest and most influential electronic bands of the last 20 years.