Sunday, 4 April 2010

Review: t.A.T.u - Waste Management

An entire album presented as a single hour-long song? Sign me up!

Of course, most people remember Tatu (which I'm going to type as a word because the mix of capitals and full stops takes too long) as the "omg lesbian marketing scam". Of course, it was successful in creating a stir, but then they kinda vanished. Since then, they now have 3 albums out, the latest of which (Happy smiles) has been re-jigged into a single and called "Waste Management".

Blatant repackaging or artistic beauty? Read on.

Admittedly, this isn't the first time Tatu have repackaged anything. Their first album was only 9 songs long, so they padded it out with extended versions, remixes and Russian versions of the two singles. I can't really defend these, its blatant filler (although the 30 seconds remix was well done) and should be frowned upon by those who fork out cash for a product.

So what exactly is Waste Management? Its essentially the album Happy Smiles, with most of the songs now having English language lyrics (Happy Smiles was the first Tatu release to be mostly in Russian, the previous two were mostly english with one or two songs in their native language) and new "transition" pieces have been written so that the songs blend into each other. Its presented as one song, and the booklet proudly states that if you stop playback before it finishes then "Satisfaction is not Guaranteed".

I'll say firstly that I love this kind of stuff. Its what makes Pink Floyd so awesome, especially since they negotiated that their music can only be sold as albums now. All the best albums, in my opinion, tell a story and weave textures around as a continual piece of music, as opposed to a collection of singles. These are albums where you don't like putting it on shuffle, or if you pick out a single song from it, you feel compelled to just leave it playing until the end.

Next, I'll say that for an act such as Tatu, this is a huge risk. They vanished from the mainstream just as quickly as they appeared, but they seem to have been enjoying success in Russia and with the collection of weird people like me who claim that there's more to their music than lesbian-tinged music videos. Nevertheless, pop acts rarely if ever attempt a release like this. It adds an air of arrogance, especially with the statement in the booklet urging, almost commanding, that their listeners sit and listen intently to the whole work without stopping.

People that love doing this with albums will normally cite albums that most people will agree is "arty". Radiohead albums, Pink Floyd records, anything that you can tag a "Progressive" label or call a Concept Album (but not Greenday's American Idiot. That is not a concept album, and it is DEFINITELY not a "rock opera"). Nobody would put Tatu down with those artists or albums. Nobody.

So its definitely a big risk, and I can't imagine they're expecting a huge volume of sales. It'll be the die-hard fans such as myself who buy this and enjoy it.

Anyway, I digress. This is a review. So is it any good?

Well, its very well done, especially when listened to on headphones. Having a constant piece of music creates a very immersive experience, which is the attraction to albums like this. Tatu's brand of ethereal electro-pop really does suit this presentation, and what piqued my curiosity was to see how they blended the songs together, as listening to the album Happy Smiles reveals that these songs aren't all just the same thing remixed.

Whats most interesting is that as opposed to 'normal' progressive concept albums, this wasn't (at least as far as I can tell) originally written to be this way. Instead, they've taken the album and written instrumental passages between each song.

These are, on the most part, very well executed. They're definitely stronger going into the next song than coming out of the previous one, in the sense that whilst you can tell where one song ends, the beginning of the next song sometimes seems to happen and before you know it you're there.

So in a sense, they've written very good intros.

Nevertheless, I feel that it works. The production is immersive without being over-compressed or overbearing, and the arrangement is top notch. The two singers may be pretty flat and lifeless in comparison to more talented vocalists, but for the music which they're singing over it works perfectly. Despite its title it tends to be a lot darker sounding than their previous two offerings, with a very spacey etheral feel. Whilst a lot of the synth sounds wouldn't be out of place on cheesy 90s house music, it doesn't feel cliche'd or cheesy. It just kinda works.

Despite its darker tones, the album still grooves like a mofo. Despite many places where they could have just stuck to the "four to the floor" staple of dance music, they tend to favour more rock influenced beats, which sound closer to something played in by a human than something programmed into a sequencer. On the most part anyway. There's a whole mix of electro, from laid back beats to very drum n bass influenced harder material. It draws elements from euphoric trance but without ever going "full on". It always feels a little more subdued, with pads drawing the energy back just enough to stop it getting out of hand. It always feels more like an album rather than a DJ megamix.

So I feel its a success. As I've mentioned before, regardless of whether the singers do any writing themselves, the production, writing and arrangement on Tatu's albums is always top notch, and its thoroughly enjoyable electonic music.

I'm not going to give ratings in stars or a mark out of ten, or even a percentage. I'll just give you my thoughts, and you can decide the rest for yourself.

If you want to check it out here's some links:

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