Monday, February 2, 2009

The Bird and The Bee - 'Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future'

If some fancy walkin’ street lad and/or lass where to ask me to name one song by The Bird and The Bee that best summed up the band’s sound, I’d have to go with “Polite Dance Song,” from the new album Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. Not because it’s B ‘n’ B’s best song (Can I get a witness for “Fucking Boyfriend?”), or even the best cut from Ray Guns (It’s clearly “Diamond Dave”). But I’ve got no assurance from this freak on the street that (s)he’s actually gonna listen to the song, so I gotta go with the title with the best mission statement. If nothing else, the pop duo of Inara George and Greg Kurstin are very good at writing polite dance songs.

Here’s the split jiffy on Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future: It’s just like The Bird and The Bee’s self-titled debut, but a little bit spacier and a little less profanity-laden. But that techno Burt Bacharach vibe that’s so schmaltzy yet so cool? Yeah, they got that down pat. While it never hits the catchy, thrilling highs of “Again & Again” or “La La La,” the record is a passable sophomore effort, another 10 tracks (not counting the interludes or the tracks previously released on EPs) of spacey dance pop.

Kurstin is a masterful compromiser of a composer, crafting arrangements that are club-ready yet classical. And like any good pop songwriter, he leaves plenty of room for the vocals, which George provides plentifully. Kurstin’s beats are great (dig those stomps ‘n’ claps on “My Love”), but it’s George who really sells these songs. “Diamond Dave,” a love song aimed square at the former Van Halen frontman, is a novelty song by default, but Inara’s delivery elevates it to great pop status. Ignore the ass-less chaps, the nymphomaniac debauchery, or that stupid debate about whether or not VH sold out for using synthesizers on “Jump.” When George purrs, “Come on Dave / Show me what you’ve got / I can take it” over the bridge, the mixture of longing and coyness is intoxicating. Of course, it helps that the lyrics don’t get too in-depth about the technical aspects of “Panama.”

Admittedly, Ray Guns works best in the beginning, when the beats are at their most propulsive, like on “What’s in the Middle.” Weaker hooks mean that whenever Kurstin eases up on the throttle too much, the record threatens to veer off into complete formlessness. But as a whole, Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future is a nice little number. It’s by no means a party record, but as far as well-behaved wine socials go, it’s a fine collection of polite dance songs.

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