On their sixth album, Observator, the Ravonettes shed the insufferable mall-goth accoutrements from their previous outing, 2011's ghastly Raven in the Grave. Simply dropping that album's ham-fisted Twilight imagery and garbled syntax is enough to mark Observator as something of a rebound for the Danish duo, who focus instead on the moody, melancholy songwriting and classic pop structures of their earlier work. Unfortunately, the set suffers from a lack of potent hooks and from dreary arrangements that overstay their welcome, making the album seem far longer than its scant half-hour running time.
Over the course of their decade-long career, the Raveonettes have carved out a highly specialized niche for themselves, wherein they write catchy pop ditties with a cockeyed view of modern romance and then cast those songs in minor-key arrangements swathed in heavy Jesus and Mary Chain-style reverb. They've developed their aesthetic with surgical precision, and Observator, which adds a few more instruments to their sonic palette, is a logical extension of that aesthetic. Lead single "Observations" may replace the band's distorted electric guitars with a slightly out-of-tune piano, but it's still unmistakably a Raveonettes song because of its noisy, echoing reverb and multi-tracked vocal harmonies.
While "Observations" might initially suggest a return to form, though, it's also indicative of the overall problems that surface on Observator. The song's dreary instrumental coda drags on interminably, but it's still less grating than the final minute and a half of "The Enemy," on which Sharin Foo croons the line, "I'm the enemy," with no real affect well over a dozen times, and "You Hit Me (I'm Down)," on which Sune Rose Wagner spends even longer doing the exact same thing with the line, "You hit me when I'm down." Were the chord progressions and melodies on songs like "Observations" and "She Owns the Streets" not so monotonous and the tempos not so plodding, the sheer amount of structural repetition might not be so maddening or dull.
Since they have stronger lyrical hooks and more memorable melodies, tracks like opener "Young and Cold" and "Sinking with a Sun," which contrasts its gloomy tone with an unexpected surf-rock inspired arrangement, serve as reminders of how well the Raveonettes can actually pull off their trademark sound. The haunting "Downtown" and raucous, album-closing "Till the End" are the set's strongest cuts, and it's telling that they're the briefest, most deliberately edited songs here. While the album may improve on its predecessor, Observator still finds the Raveonettes engaging in far too many self-indulgent habits: They've left Hot Topic, but they don't seem to know where they're headed next.