When people look back on the aughts, one defining trend may be band names that use repetition, or repeating of words. Ra Ra Riot may not be a band established enough to be one closely associated with the first decade of the new millennium, but their name certainly will be. They are a pop band who defined themselves with the use of violins and cellos, and have garnered modest success with their first two albums. With their third Beta Love, they have ditched the cello, and minimized the violins for more synthesizer riffs and beats. As a band that specialized in simple pop songs, their specialty niche was the use of the cello and violin, so essentially they have evolved into the millions of other synthesizer pop bands, and are in danger of disappearing into the bland musical void.
When I say they’ve abandoned the violins for use of synthesizers, I mean the violin is present in the songs, but the adding of the electronic element has taken all of the substance and heart out of the ancient stringed instrument. There’s just no escaping the dominance of the synthesizer on this album, which sounds like they’ve had a lot of fun adding this new element to their repertoire, but it also sounds like they’re just beginning to learn this new sound. You’d expect this from a younger group just establishing themselves, not a band that’s six years old and releasing their make or break third album. Right off the bat with “Dance with Me” we get a bubble gum track that would be something you’d expect from one of those teen bands where every one has spiky hair dos. “Binary Mind” is an almost offensive song, where the character of the song is a robot maybe, but he’s lonely. So why does it sound so peppy and happy? You’ll need incredible patience to get through the first two songs, but the band does settle in with the title track “Beta Love”. It’s the song that uses all of their new elements well in a pop song structure, although it’s also the type of song that you’d hear on a Mazda commercial, so if you’re like me, you also want to turn it off within the first 5 seconds. “Is it Too Much”. “For Once”, and “Angel Please” are all mid-album basic pop structure tracks, all basically forgettable. “What I Do For U” peeks my interest, because of the use of the deep bass hits. It intrigues me, because it sounds exactly what it would sound like if you just discovered a synthesizer and all the fun sounds it can make, which actually makes it sound fresh, when it really shouldn’t. The album slows down in tempo near the end with “When I Dream”, “That Much”, “Wilderness”, and “I Shut Off”, but there’s really nothing elementally added to the songs, just riffing off the themes established earlier, and it only adds to a very bland and disappointing endeavor.
Ra Ra Riot are all young and incredibly good looking, so their pop song structure, combined with the stringed instruments, and Wes Miles’ radio friendly voice give them a solid base for success. It’s quite possible that a couple of minor hits come off this album, it’s an easy going sound with some pep, but if anything more than another car commercial comes out of it, I’ll be surprised. Ra the Sun God, may actually riot.
– Michael Unger