The petulant sneer that gave the Ting Tings’ hit singles “Shut Up and Let Me Go” and “That’s Not My Name” their charms escalates into a full-bore temper tantrum on the duo’s sophomore album, Sounds for Nowheresville. And like most temper tantrums, it all amounts to a great deal of bluster for bluster’s sake and becomes tiresome almost instantly. Pop music can support a good deal of brattiness when its hooks are strong, but the Ting Tings have cobbled together a set of tuneless, inert songs here that can’t be salvaged by simply copping an attitude.
What’s especially gross is that the Ting Tings give the impression that they’ve set out to fail deliberately, as some kind of juvenile attempt at punk. When Katie White sings, “This could’ve been perfection/But we had a bit of sense/But we are the destroyers/So we started it again,” on “Give It Back,” it’s a thinly veiled reference to the album’s lengthy gestation period, which included scrapping a considerable amount of work that had already gone into recording a dance-leaning follow-up to We Started Nothing. In terms of destruction, Sounds for Nowheresville plays similarly to their debut, just with all of the melodies, multi-tracked vocal hooks, and cleverly layered instrumental loops excised.
The problem with that meta stunt performance is that it leaves the Ting Tings without anything significant to fall back on. Neither White nor Jules de Martino have the presence to carry songs like “Hit Me Down Sonny,” on which White uses her most nasal drone to prattle off some nonsense about Speedy Gonzalez over a chord progression that starts to descend but ends up circling back on itself ad nauseam, or “Guggenheim,” which hinges on spoken-word verses that scan as whiny rather than urgent or even fully engaged on a narrative level. “Day to Day,” which finds White sweetly chirping the song’s title phrase uninterrupted for the entirety of its refrain, only really makes sense as some perverse kind of parody of Colbie Caillat’s mind-numbingly one-note radio trifles, but even that seems like a charitable explanation.
The band shouts their definition of “punk rock” (a definition, it’s worth mentioning, that no one, anywhere, has ever actually asked the Ting Tings to provide) in the broadest possible terms on the Sleigh Bells-aping “Hang It Up,” which, again, is revealing when it comes to the condescending tone of the whole album and outlines why Sounds for Nowheresville fails on its own merits. Without something that they’re actively rebelling against, the Ting Tings’ punk move reduces to an empty gesture, playing dress-up without having any frame of reference for where they found their costumes or what they signify.
Moreover, the songs on Sounds for Nowheresville aren’t noteworthy in terms of content or construction, nor do they resolve into any kind of coherent aesthetic that would give context as to what it is the Ting Tings are really after. The album doesn’t work as punk, and the lack of hooks (not one track on the album sounds like a viable radio single) ensures that it doesn’t work as pop. It just makes a nuisance of itself for no real reason and then eventually calms down like nothing ever happened at all.