Underappreciated Music File: The Ting Tings
The Ting Tings is duo Jules De Martino and Katie White of Greater Manchester in the UK. Their first release We Started Nothing came out mid-May 2008 and received an average reviewer score of 6.3 out of 10*. There are valuable and fun tracks like "Great DJ" and "That's Not My Name," but despite a number one ranking on the UK Album Chart and several top 20 spots throughout Europe, the album hasn't gained a lot of respect stateside. In fact, the majority of reviews feel the album is derivative, bland and, more or less, merely a pop culture footnote. Pitchfork decried the album especially saying The Ting Tings are "selling anti-establishment 'fuck yous' by the bottle. Plus some barely serviceable party tunes."(1) And, yes, there are some disposable tracks on the album that feel like pop filler, but guess what? By and large We Started Nothing covers so wide a spectrum of styles that it is unfair consider it as a failure of one genre or another.
There are dance-heavy tracks, pop-radio ready tracks, melancholy indie tracks, synth-y rock, et al. The album evokes Lily Allen, The Dears, and Belle and Sebastian, among others. And despite a lack of originality in style and form, the songs are excellent, well-composed, and delightful. Really, the album is fun to listen to from beginning to end, and although it's by no means a life-changer, it can't be faulted for being a solid pop record that makes no promises to begin with. Album titling is an important aspect of the overall artistic appreciation, and I'm always surprised when reviewers forget to consider how the music reflects the title and vice versa. Only theme albums, like Sufjan Steven's Illinois, are observed closely for the way a collection of songs tie into the title, but nearly every artist titles their work purposefully. An album like St. Vincent's Actor portends the varying masks worn by Annie Clark over the course of the tracks. Noble Beast sets up the acoustic, plodding design of the music on Andrew Bird's latest album. And in the case of The Ting Tings, We Started Nothing claims that, from the front cover, they didn't start these genres, they didn't make this music up from scratch, rather they're exploring their options and pushing away from the greater record industry to spread their creative wings.
We Started Nothing is not a perfect album, and it won't set well with every listener, but it is also one of the most pleasant, uplifting and repeatedly enjoyable albums I've listened to in the last year. The music isn't important, but it doesn't have to be to go underappreciated. The lukewarm response from critics just demonstrates a skew towards viewing all album for their "artistic purpose," but we've seen movements of art on canvas, in film and through photography that fail to meet with critics views of purpose, and managed to enjoy it anyway. Even Botticelli was contracted to paint some of his greatest work, and a present-day critic might view him as a sell-out simply filling a niche. And ultimately, it's fun to just listen to an enjoyable album now and again without burying its merits in a litany of artistic discourse and judgment.
Excellent tracks: "Traffic Light," "Shut Up And Let Me Go," "Great DJ," and "We Started Nothing."
*Scores adjusted to scale-10 from star-value for purpose of averaging.
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