Back in 2005 when Norway duo Datarock released their self-titled debut, it had, as with a handful of similar releases that year, a unique sound, a hybrid of dance and guitar- and synth-driven rock, and for listeners loyal to either genre, everyone was a winner. Now in 2009 with this now fashionable dance/rock sound well established, Datarock have delivered album two, Red. And so the question remains whether, without the novelty of a burgeoning, exciting new sound to get tongues wagging, if they can keep the tempo up.
On Red the magic formula is relatively unchanged. It’s still big beats, riffs, energy and that live sound so important in their amazing red-hoodied live shows. There is also plenty of added synth, giving it added ’80s appeal…and it all works magically, again.
“The Blog” kicks things off with vocoder vocals and Human League synth amidst live concert screams before bringing in their huge beats, Fredrik Saroea’s yelling vocal and Internet championing soundbites. Think it’s too much? One might think so, especially considering the messy way I’ve described it, but it’s just fabulous when put together. “Give it up,” “True Stories” and “Dance!” are more like the Datarock we know, all very energetic catchy numbers. The only problem here is that they sound a little samey and there’s a fear that they haven’t moved on all that much in the past few years. “Molly Do It Your Way” gets the ears pricking up again, however, firstly due to its blatant references to ’80s teen movie icon Molly Ringwald, but more for the way the tune grows into one of the album highlights with a beautiful synth melody laden over those Datarock beats.
“In The Red,” the only instrumental on the record, moves them into the playful TV theme category. It’s an out-of-sorts interlude midway through the album but awakens us to the notion that these Norwegian boys have the blinders off and are prepared to try out new things. LCD Soundsystem reminiscent “The Pretender,” although not necessarily unique in style, is definitely the pick of the entire record. It’s born for the live stage and insanely catchy, with random couplets from Saroea: “I’m a north American/ I’m a believer/ I’m a north Korean/ I am a pretender.” Simple and shouty.
The one ballad on Red comes right at the end—”New Days Dawn” is an unexpected treat, a slowed down ’70s funk number, in the spirit of Al Green’s smooth soul. It reveals a deft songwriting talent in Saroea and bandmate Ketil Mosnes, and even though it’s a million miles from anything else on the record it closes things out sexily.
Even though Red at times may be a bit lacking in diversity, there really isn’t a bad track anywhere here. The songs are perfectly concise, tight, well produced and quite simply a lot of fun.