The Raveonettes take their love of the Jesus and Mary Chain to new heights on their sophomore release, Pretty in Black. The Mary Chain's debut, Psychocandy, was a thrilling collision of extreme noise and sticky-sweet melodies; the Raveonettes' debut, Chain Gang of Love, followed a similar formula and came up with similarly thrilling results. The Jesus and Mary Chain's second album, Darklands, stripped away almost all the noise and gave the group's sound a by-the-numbers feel that was only saved by some great songs and the Reid brothers' personas. The Raveonettes plot the same course on Pretty in Black. None of the songs have the '50s rockabilly in a wind tunnel feel, nor do they sound remotely dangerous, exciting, or even fun. The album is subdued and overly polished, with a preponderance of thin drum sounds, stock guitar sounds, and uninspired singing from both Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo. That's not to say that they should have released Chain Gang, Pt. 2, but it would have been nice to have retained some of that record's sonic wildness and overall sense of fun and adventure. Plus, none of the songs here come within a mile of the thrilling moments from Chain Gang of Love like "That Great Love Sound," "Heartbreak Stroll," or "The Love Gang." The few songs that stir up some noise, like "Sleepwalking" or "Twilight," do so in a way that is very predictable, and the ballads are lightweight to the point of being completely forgettable. Only a couple of songs make a positive impression (the lilting "Here Comes Mary" and laid-back summer tune "Red Tan"), and even then they would have been the weakest songs on Chain Gang of Love. The biggest nail in the coffin is their flat cover of the Angels' "My Boyfriend's Back" (which was co-written by producer Richard Gottehrer back in the mid-'60s), but there are problems everywhere you look. They rope in Mo Tucker to play drums, Martin Rev to provide drum machines, and Ronnie Spector to warble some background vocals, and their contributions are pretty negligible -- it seems like they were brought on just to give the record some hipster cred. Spector's presence on the Phil Spector-esque "Ode to L.A." just points up the song's shortcomings, and making her sing the "whoah oh ohs" from "Be My Baby" is so obvious that it is almost embarrassing. (Besides, Eddie Money beat them to the punch by about 20 years.) Overall, the choices that Wagner and Gottherer make regarding the sound of the album strip away the very things that made the band worthwhile and, unlike on Darklands, the songs that remain are not strong enough to carry the weight. A major disappointment to say the least, Pretty in Black is such an indifferent and predictable record that it makes one reconsider the quality of the album that preceded it. Now that is the mark of a bad album.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra