The Raveonettes are best known for filtering the innocent perspective and tuneful, sunny hooks of ‘50s pop through the noise and fuzz of the Jesus and Mary Chain, which makes it somewhat jarring to hear the Danish duo play goth-kid dress-up on Raven in the Grave. Songs like “Aly, Walk with Me” from 2008’s terrific Lust Lust Lust and “Twilight” from Pretty in Black prove that the Raveonettes can tackle unnerving, mysterious material without losing their distinctive sound, but Raven in the Grave just sounds like the in-store music for Hot Topic. The fascination with death and graveyards plays out as part of an affected costume rather than a logical extension of the duo’s point of view or style.
Opener “Recharge and Revolt” boasts the kind of ebullient melody that has made the Raveonettes one of the most under-appreciated pop acts in recent memory, but that melody is buried beneath layers of sludgy, distorted bass and tinny guitar riffs, while its lyrics (“When in purity I silently reach for you/Where the scarecrows shiver and the cornfields too/I’ve reached my goal of eternity with you”) are straight-up Stephenie Meyer. The production on “War in Heaven” makes smart use of sonic dissonance to reinforce the song’s theme. But the conceit is so thin, repeating just a scant three lines (“Wait! A war in Heaven/I hate it when they forget to let people in/Slow evening comes, there’s blood on my shirt in this tender night”) that it never builds to a greater effect.
The Raveonettes have always made use of heavy reverb on their albums, but the overall impact is that Raven in the Grave just sounds sloppy. It doesn’t make a song like “Apparitions” sound ghostly or haunted so much as it makes it hard to appreciate the song’s melody or the duo’s trademark vocal harmonies. And for as many of the album’s songs that make reference to blood or dying, the arrangements are simply anemic and lack any real sense of gravity. With howlingly awful lines like “You look so dead/Did you ever rejoice/Oh, young girl in thy youth,” the staggering lack of depth in the songwriting is matched by the thin, tin-eared production.
Despite the fact that the album’s aesthetic minimizes the things that the Raveonettes do well, the duo fully commits to this stylistic put-on as the writers, performers, and producers of the record. If the album is meant as a satire of the current media obsession with all things vampires and undead, Raven in the Grave might have a cogent point to make. But as an album that showcases the Raveonettes as a pop duo worth listening to, it’s almost entirely a misfire.