In the parallel worlds of movie sequels and second albums, there exists the ever-present myth of the sophomore slump. For some reason, whether due to heightened expectations from a thrilling original or the burdens of sudden fame, some albums and films just seem to crumble under the weight of its predecessor’s success. Now there are plenty of bits of evidence to the contrary including The Bends, Godfather II, The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Band, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and the second in Sufjan Stevens’ state series, Illinois, but alas, it probably won’t be enough to tip the scales away from that overpowering myth. One more example can now be included to rebel against the sophomore slump tag, Ratatat’s blazing second album, the aptly (and a bit ballsy) titled, Classics. Their bedroom compositions of Evan Mast’s synth and drum machine layered with Mike Stroud’s dancing feet, disco sweet guitars are so enjoyable, it can’t even be ruined by a kiss of death or a surprising familiar revelation.
Their debut self-titled album was like Flash Gordon in Daft Punk’s Main Street Electrical Parade, and while Classics has moments of the same kind of electro-fun, it is also a bit more mature. Ratatat have taken a big step up in their recorded comings of age, adding a bit of sober complexity to the otherwise raucous party. Take for instance the measured beats and handclaps amidst the Spanish style guitar in “Montanita,” the song that opens the album. Mast and Stroud take a cue from Brian Wilson with the subtle layering of sounds to make one glorious patchwork quilt. “Lex” is more of a return to their first album form, wailing guitars and hip-hop beats aplenty, but the guitar bridges and breakdowns are that extra touch of something special to which I was previously referring. With Classics, Ratatat prove that less can sometimes be more, and that electro-symphonic brilliance need not be reserved for only those named after whales.
“Wildcat” is one of the standouts, and can somewhat be considered a title track considering the cover image of a tiger. The sounds of a growling wildcat, along with a fading ringing phone weave together with the organs, beats and violin-like guitars to create one of the more memorable compositions. There’s even a bit of electric guitar Tchaikovsky grandeur at about two minutes in before veering off into guitar picking retro fun a la Phoenix. Then there’s the truly Beatles-esque “Tropicana,” sounding like a cover version of “Come Together” done for a psychedelic animated show. To get your crunk on, blast “Loud Pipes.” But for that late night rendezvous and nightcap, put on “Swisha.” And really, how can you not love an album with a song called “Tacobel Canon?”
I’m surprised there hasn’t been a more vocal contingent decrying the third efforts from filmmakers and artists, especially considering the follow-ups to the films listed above. The musical equivalent can be found in the too far reaching Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness and the `out there already’ The Cult of Ray. When you throw in the third Matrix movie, the evidence seems nearly overwhelming. (Of course, there are just as many to the contrary making the whole thing seem arbitrary, but that would go against my entire point, and I really don’t want to start all over again.) Purely based on the strength of their first two albums, Ratatat has little to fear with any kind of failure myth. And besides, even should a third album fail to impress as much as its predecessors, we can always look back on Classics, give Evan and Mike a forceful kiss on the cheek, and whisper, “I know it was you, Fredo.”