bis

Return to Central

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    8
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By the time bis recorded their third album, 2001's Return to Central, they had traveled a long way from the ramshackle, over-excitable trio they started out as only a few years previous. They trade all their noisy shouting and amped-up rhythms for a much more refined, almost sophisticated approach that follows further down the electropop path blazed by their previous album's high point, "Eurodisco." Manda Rin sets aside her yelpy exhortations in favor of silky crooning, the boys in the band (John Disco and Sci-Fi Steven) craft song after song that come off like ABC run through Sigue Sigue Sputnik with a stop at the Pet Shop Boys for polishing, and there's enough dancefloor-friendly fun to make up for the occasional stumble. Getting those out of the way first, when bis try to get moody and dark on "We're Complicated," they sound just a bit detached and over-produced, though the similarly serious "The End Starts Today" fares a little better thanks to a more compelling melody and a riveting vocal performance from Manda. The rest of the album is a delight, however, ranging from blippy space disco ("What You're Afraid Of") to spacy Bond ballads ("A Portrait from Space"), but hitting the hardest when sticking to uptempo, propulsive dance-rock with synths. Tracks like the so bright you need shades "Protection," the absolutely strutting "Silver Spoon," and the Manda Rin as a Debbie Harry-esque killer android "Robotic" deliver all the fun of their earlier raucous punk singles, but with far less screaming and way more sex appeal. It took the trio a few tries, but with Return to Central they found their ideal sound and wrote their most immediate, most effectively played and sung, and overall best-sounding batch of songs to date.

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