BETTIE SERVEERT: PHARMACY OF LOVE (2010)
1) Deny All; 2) Semaphore; 3) Love Lee; 4) Mossie; 5) The Pharmacy; 6) Souls Travel; 7) Calling; 8) Change4Me; 9) What They Call Love.
Say what you will, but it can be nice to admire the tightness of artistic bonds — absolutely nobody needs Bettie Serveert to stick around for another decade, yet on they plough, with the Visser / van Dyk partnership stronger than ever; for all we know, they'll still be around by 2050, and that is when they will finally take their revenge on the musical community. In the meantime, Pharmacy Of Love at least remedies the flaw of their previous album — no more of that philosophical acoustic shit, we are back to full-dressed electric arrangements, and not only that, but we've also pumped up the tempos quite a bit: Pharmacy Of Love is the band's fastest, loudest, angriest record since... ever? Maybe since ever.
The difference goes beyond the tempos, though, or maybe it is the tempos that are responsible for compressing the band into a much tighter format. Many of the songs, instead of relying on relatively free jangle-folk-pop strumming, are now either riff-based or follow punk / post-punk rhythm patterns that leave no space for rhythmic variation — I guess, from a certain point of view, you could call this «selling out», since ultimately Pharmacy Of Love has quite a few things in common with commercially oriented «pop punk» forms, groping for tightness, catchiness, and even some production gloss. (In fact, I think some fans did accuse the band of selling out, despite the fact that the album couldn't have sold more than a couple hundred copies).
But the issue of «selling out» is usually unrelated to the issue of actual quality, and I must say that some of the songs here seem unusually well-written for this band. The lead-in track, ʽDeny Allʼ, is a powerfully desperate rocker with expressive lead guitar work (particularly Visser's little «siren lines» in between the verses); but Peter gets to shine even better on ʽSemaphoreʼ and the title track, combining and merging all sorts of styles, from power-pop to dream-pop to acid psychedelia, whatever the moment calls for.
It is true that getting rid of the «endless imitator» status is a difficult task. It took me only a couple listens, for instance, to understand the heavy debt that ʽMossieʼ owes to ʽI Want You (She's So Heavy)ʼ, or that the "blame it on yourself, blame it on the state you're in..." part of ʽChange4Meʼ is fundamentally ripped off Radiohead's ʽBlack Starʼ ("blame it on the black star, blame it on the falling sky...") — and I am quite convinced that a couple more equally meticulous listens would bring out more and more of these derivations. But the important thing is not that these songs continue to lack originality — the important thing is that they sound like crafted pop songs, not like spontaneous indie rock rants; and since Carol van Dyk is not Joni Mitchell and Peter Visser is not Van Morrison, I'd rather take crafted pop songs from them, any time of day, than raw, bleeding, boring confessions.
The album's centerpiece is the lengthy ʽCallingʼ, which alone occupies more than a quarter of this fairly short LP — with lengthy setups, effect-laden guitar drones, and slowest tempos all around, it wants to be some sort of anthemic-psychedelic masterpiece in the style of The Bends (which, incidentally, I have already mentioned in connection with ʽBlack Starʼ — somebody must have been on an early Radiohead kick), but there's no way Bettie Serveert would have been able to pull off a nine-minute track convincingly: Visser is their only instrumentalist to whom you might want to pay attention, and his function on this vessel, slowly sailing through the marmalade skies and tangerine oceans, is largely atmospheric.
Nevertheless, despite all the flaws, The Pharmacy Of Love still gets a thumbs up from me. The band's transition from «indie-ramblers» to «pop-rockers» has been carried out with style and intelligence, and has managed to bring down the «boredom» and «pretense» parameters to tolerable levels. No, it probably will not earn Carol van Dyk any extra respect and admiration from you if you have not been able to generate that admiration earlier — but you know, if an indie rock album produced in 2010 does not cause irritation, it is already quite an achievement all by itself. And if an indie rocker makes his/her influences so utterly transparent, and it still does not cause any irritation... well, that sort of makes the album a masterpiece in its own way.