Review: The Ting Tings’ “We Started Nothing”

Jun 11, 2008 2:16pm

  If you’ve been watching television and you’ve seen one of the latest rounds of ipod commercials, no doubt at some point or another you have heard the Ting Tings’ song “Shut Up and Let Me Go.”  What we hear on the commercial is a vaguely intriguing sample of a dance groove.  Apple has rarely used bad music in the ipod ad campaign.  Usually they use hip, cutting edge songs like the Caesars’ “Jerk It Out” or Cut Chemist’s “The Audience’s Listening” or even Wolfmother’s “Love Train.”  This time is different.  Throughout the Ting Tings’ debut, “We Started Nothing,” the duo of Katie White and Jules de Martino attempt to stretch out thirty second ideas into full songs.  It can be frustrating.  Their attempt at new-wave revivalism is noted, and it would be good if they had enough material to back up their spunkiness, but the well runs dry a little too quickly.  The album starts with “Great DJ.”  The intro has great promise with its clockwork, metronome-like rhythm, but the whole thing is built around two repeated chords.  When the song rises, it falls prematurely.  At the point where you’d expect a big chorus you realize you already got it and it wasn’t that big.  All we get is White repeating the phrase “Imagine all the girls/ ah ah ah ah ah ah ah, ah/ and the boys/ ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah /and the strings, /ee, ee, ee, ee, ee, ee, ee, ee, / and the drums, the drums, the drums, the drums.”  Her voice doesn’t rise at all.  All we get is this nonsense that doesn’t take us as high as the song demands.  There needs to be more than the names of instruments and random syllables. “That’s Not My Name” uses a similar method.  Rather than using tuneful methods, the Ting Tings rather just chant phrases and words.  White sings in the verses, but it’s not an impressive tune, and her vocal tone can get grating.  The song is about a group of people who don’t know her name.  The chorus is just a long list of names which aren’t hers.  With its “Wooly Bully” attitude and structure, I half expected to hear a “banana fanna” in here somewhere.  The song stretches for more than five minutes.  I suppose it aims to be a crowd pleaser, but outside a high school pep rally it is just plain irritating. “Fruit Machine” is a little more interesting.  Once again it’s very simple, built around a repeated bass, but there’s more to it.  The keyboard layer on top during the chorus and White’s multiple vocal lines lift the song up.  It actually works.  Similarly, “Traffic Light” is quite nice, because it actually has a tune which White sings somewhat sweetly.  So the Ting Tings show promise.  Maybe the reason “Traffic Light” works is because the emphasis is on the song itself and not the groove.  “Shut Up and Let Me Go,” was interesting for thirty seconds, but it doesn’t hold up for an entire song.  The chorus works (“I ain’t freakin’, I ain’t fakin’ this!”) but the verses drag the song down to aimless, vacant disco kitsch.  It’s disappointing. “Keep Your Head” is one of the best tracks on the disc because finally all the parts match up.  It’s just as energetic and catchy as it is musical.  It’s an enjoyable slice of new-wave which will get caught in your head.  “Be the One” is even better and sounds like something that would’ve been in a good John Hughes movie.  It’s actually the strongest song on the album because White isn’t shouting for our attention.  She’s singing softly.  She’s hushed but she still has the same energy.  In this case less is more. When everything is more focused and refined, the whole piece works better. The good streak continues with “We Walk,” although the bass-line is a rehash of “Shut Up and Let Me Go.”  It’s the same song only mellower, with a slightly different arrangement. Ultimately even though it sounds better, it’s still a little bit of a letdown.  “Impacilla Carpisung” just sounds like White talking over herself over a standard boogie bass.  It isn’t a song at all. It’s just a mess.  For an attempt at a chorus, she quiets down and “oohs” and “ahs” over an almost satisfying keyboard line, but then the whole mess starts over again.  The album closes with the title track.  Built around another two-chord riff it gets repetitive rather quickly.  White’s vocal style gets ultra irksome as she half-sings in a sort of high-pitched whine.  The song doesn’t really change.  It just jams out on the same structure for a full six minutes.  A horn solo helps give the song something else to build on, but ultimately it doesn’t really hold up.  This album disappoints.  There is hope though.  The oasis of stronger material in the middle proves that the duo may be redeemable.  Perhaps with the right guidance and collaborators they could create something cool.  In the meantime, their title is right.  They really did start nothing.  I haven’t heard an album this accurately named since the Gin Blossoms’ “New Miserable Experience.”

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