BETTIE SERVEERT: ATTAGIRL (2004)
1) Dreamaniacs; 2) Attagirl; 3) Don't Touch That Dial!; 4) Greyhound Song; 5) You've Changed; 6) Versace; 7) 1 Off Deal; 8) Hands Off; 9) Staying Kind; 10) Lover I Don't Have To Love.
An irresponsible reviewer like myself should have found a very easy way to shrug off an album like this — simply by saying that no album that features a Bright Eyes cover deserves a review, period, let alone a positive review. But for the sake of self-improvement, let us assume that I am not myself today, so, in a far more responsible manner, I have to point out that ʽLover I Don't Have To Loveʼ was one of the few listenable numbers on Lifted, and that any Conor Oberst song would automatically sound better anyway if done by Carol van Dijk. Because Carol can at least play it intricately, mystery-woman-style, whereas Conor Oberst is simply a guy that deserves being put out of his misery on the spot, whenever he opens his mouth. (Okay, make it «the artistic reflection of Conor Oberst», to avoid unrequired ambiguities).
In any case, regardless of how artistically embarrassing it is for a band much older, better, and at least more experienced than Bright Eyes to cover Bright Eyes, that is only one last track on an album that is quite uneven, but occasionally still charming and/or catchy. Shorter and less ambitious than Log 22, it is another mix of «classic indie-rock» Bettie Serveert with their Private Suit incarnation, so it's got a little for everyone, but not a lot for anyone, unless you adore their guitar posturing stuff and their moody escapades equally.
I will probably settle for the moody escapades: ʽDreamaniacsʼ is a successful art-pop creation where bouncy rhythmics, meteor showers of electronic bleeps, and ambient strings mesh well with Carol's lyrical message — "though my feet are on the ground, my head is on a cloud", as she pleads with her imaginary lover to take it easy on her ("don't give up on me, dreamaniacs don't aim to please"). The title track is even better, with its smoky lounge atmosphere and a streak of weepiness culminating in the bitter-ironic hook of "attagirl!" We never get the details, but Carol's "it's you and me and the Devil makes three" is an uneasy line all the same, and the arrangement of the song makes it work, although arguably it works even better when totally stripped, on an acoustic demo version that is appended as a bonus to some of the CD editions.
The third highlight of the album is ʽVersaceʼ, where the band falls for the latest indie trends and explores the risky world of electronic dance-pop, but with surprisingly effective results — the bass groove and various keyboard overdubs set a ghostly melancholic mood, while Carol adopts her most seductive tone (the one which allows breaking into falsetto when necessary). However, the irony and need for self-deflation are not forgotten, either: on their own, the lyrics would be just a trite collection of «broken heart» clichés, but the repetitive mantra "Versace... Versace... Versace" consolidating the hookline, the song becomes more of a self-conscious parody on the «ennui syndrome of the rich and prosperous». Pretty cool, considering that it was their first experiment with this kind of style.
With the addition of a couple more inventive mixes (e.g. «swampy» slide guitars with «Eastern» strings on ʽGrehound Song), Attagirl is, at the very least, entertainingly diverse, even if it has its share of forgettable throwaways as well (ʽHands Offʼ — fast, look-at-me-I'm-so-full-of-energy pop-rocker whose main purpose seems to be to remind us that they are still a «rock» band and can kick ass any time they want to; but I don't think it's really true). Since nobody really gave a damn about a bunch of aging rockers from Holland by 2004, the album got almost no press, and what little it got was fairly cruel — but I suppose such was the inevitable cost of being originally overrated and overpraised: few things in this world can be as pitiable as a formerly overappreciated indie-rock band still trying to raise sand in a dog-eat-dog environment. But honestly, even without any pity or condescension, Attagirl deserves a modest thumbs up on the whole, and we will try to overlook the Bright Eyes incident because, well, everybody is entitled to a tasteless blunder every now and then. Just don't do it again.