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Friday, August 1, 2014

Bettie Serveert: Bare Stripped Naked

BETTIE SERVEERT: BARE STRIPPED NAKED (2006)

1) Roadmovies; 2) Hell = Other People; 3) Love & Learn; 4) Brain-Tag; 5) Storm; 6) The Rope; 7) All The Other Fish; 8) What They Call Love; 9) Painted Word; 10) 2nd Time; 11) Hell = Other People (alt. version); 12) Certainlie.

I doubt that this severely ungrammatical title (should have at least put a couple commas in there to make it look like a thesaurus excerpt) brought Bettie Serveert any extra incidental popularity from porn surfers; nor does Carol's huge, decidedly non-porn face on the album sleeve count as an adequately sexy reflection of the title. Actually, I think that by this time it must have been clear to the band that nothing whatsoever would bring them extra incidental popularity from any target group. So they simply resigned their fates into Carol's hands — for all I know, Bare Stripped Naked is more like a Carol van Dyk solo album with occasional guest spots from Bettie Serveert members rather than a «proper» BS product.

Other than the last track, ʽCertainlieʼ, a slow indie rocker in classic Neil Young style, all the songs here are indeed «stripped naked», with little or no electric guitar, putting Carol, her singing and acoustic playing up front. Right from the start, Bettie Serveert had always vied for the title of «most introspective and psychologically oriented» indie band on the planet (or, at least, in Hol­land), but on Bare Stripped Naked, melody and harmony are officially relegated to background support — there is no way one can like the record without being a focused devotee of Carol van Dyke and her «bride of Lou Reed» femme fatale fling.

Actually, scrap the «Lou Reed» association; most of these songs do not sound much like Lou in any of his periods. They sound like... like some amateur's sorry attempt to make a bunch of art Lieder in the indie rock idiom, or something. Peter Hammill used to get away with this due to his poetic gift and powerful vocal presence, but Carol van Dyk is not even close to that league in any of those respects. She is not even in a particularly decent vocal form here — croaking and blee­ting her way in a completely anti-Private Suit manner, maybe in an attempt to introduce some «spontaneity» and «naturalness», but let us not forget that shitting one's pants is also an act that is both spontaneous and natural, and yet we do not usually think of such qualities of that particular act as possessing a redeeming value.

At most, I could comment on one of these songs, so let us make it ʽHell = Other Peopleʼ — clear­ly, it was of particular importance to Carol, since it is presented here in no less than two different versions, just like George Harrison's ʽIsn't It A Pityʼ on All Things Must Pass. Melodically, it is trite and unmemorable, and the vocal melody for the verses is taken straight from Dylan's ʽYou're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Goʼ (took me a while to extract that link from the back of my mind, but back of one's mind is where it must have come from — it's perfectly plausible that Carol would be spinning Blood On The Tracks a million times to get in the mood for this album, and you don't play jokes with your subconscious). Lyrically, it wants to enlighten us on the issue of Carol's relationship with somebody who is "a 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, sharper than a broken nail", but ends up sounding like a moron, and the singer ends up sounding like a double moron for taking up with him in the first place. And the two different arrangements vary in that the second one is... more fully produced, with harder percussion, glossier vocal mix, and more piano. Something like that. Sounds exciting? It's the best there is.

I cannot bring myself to hate any of the Bettie Serveert albums, because I've always respected Carol's willingness to keep it all under control and not go over the top with barf-inducing histryonics à la Conor Oberst. However, Bare Stripped Naked is such a thoroughly misguided idea that I have come quite close to a state of hatred. There is nothing wrong in stripping naked if there is something worth showing underneath; but this record, in reality, is just as much of a sty­listic put-on as any other of their albums. Take the difference between ʽLucy In The Sky With Diamondsʼ and John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and there you have the real meaning of the «stripped naked» metaphor. Here, all we have is Peter Visser only getting to play a wailing elec­tric solo on the last track, when it's much too late and your mood has been hopelessly spoiled by wasting so much time on a failed effort. Thumbs down.

PS. For the sake of trivia, there is an acoustic remake of ʽBrain Tagʼ from Palomine, which only makes me sicker still because are we supposed to think that track was some sort of «classic» in its own right to deserve this Subtle Artistic Treatment? Goddammit, people, you have to earn the right to go «unplugged», unless you were unplugged right from the start. Acoustic versions of bad electric songs? Only in a hellish indie nightmare.

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