1999: The Man From B.E.T.T.Y. BTY4
Of the BETTY discography as of mid-2006, BETTY3 was the last to join my collection thanks to a backorder status, anyway. Id had Hello, BETTY!, Kiss My Sticky, and Limboland for some years but had found myself uncompelled by what Id heard of BETTY3 as BETTY were releasing it. I dont recall what track it was I heard bits of that turned me off, but I do remember feeling that what I heard indicated they were losing their signature sound amid heavier production. And I let the thread drop for a long time.
But in 2006 on a tangential whim I checked out BETTY RULES (from 2002) and said holy SHIT, theyve GOT it, theyve GOT IT!! Which of course led me back down the timeline to see how they got there after all despite the grim outlook seen from Limboland and what Id heard of BETTY3. Now that Ive heard all there is of BETTY currently available on CD, I have a much better understanding of the overall picture and what eventually clicked for the realization of their sound: tempo, in a nutshell. It Girl, here, is a nifty song that never really grabs you; on BETTY RULES, its performed almost exactly 20% faster and ROCKS because instead of the lyrics being sung at almost-ballad pace theyre delivered at nearly normal speaking speed, and singing is extended speech as the best voice teacher I ever knew always said. When BETTY sped up their performances of these already-good songs, the songs were clearer in both melody and lyrical impact.
Thats not to say that all songs should be sped upUnderworld here certainly moves at *exactly* the right drunken speed for its scenario, for example. Amy Ziff seems to have a knack for this maudlin realm, a really GOOD knack, as was shown most recently on Snowbizs Holiday Office Party Blues (and to a less-literally depraved degree on Miracles Can Happen). That BETTY deliver such dark stuff in stride with their cover of Windy and the explosively exuberant It Girl (I have the BETTY RULES version in mind, there) adds to my esteem for them; that they make even the garishly debauched tableau so beautiful, as they do with Underworlds closing, is a thrilling and disturbing gift I wish more people could experience.
Theres no denying that the addition of a serious drums/guitar band presence beefed the equation up tremendously, I suppose, and that calculation adjustment seemed to have worked, as theyve stuck with it and continued to improve both the instrumental and the vocal aspects of the group over time with that in place. I like it and I like the fact that BETTY can still bring forth excellent songs and fascinating performance independent of the full-band context.
As far as songcraft goes, BETTY3 is abundant and diversemore so than Id expected. So much of the album is so groovy and compelling that I find myself in the unhappy position of having to name exceptions to the excellences rather than spotlight the stars. So, for example, I dont care much for Kissing You here as a song or as a performance (nor on BETTY RULES), although its witty; Dolls and Bennies isnt especially gripping but has a catchy chorus; Nowheresville is nearly as dead-end as its subject but still has tantalizing bits here and there, and Together sounds like a rocked-up combination of Limbolands Two Cherries and A Typical Love. Standout tracks include the fascinating Hercules (well worth repeated listenings to augment the impressions and allusions, plus which Amy Ziffs cello muscles things up significantly and gorgeously), the dark-edged lust-celebration of Greedy, and the exquisite living-well-is-the-best-revenge testimonial A Perfect Day (which is possibly the albums finest track, but its among stiff competition). You Dont Know isnt particularly BETTY-specific territory, but its solid and clear and abundantly applicable.
And then theres Naughty Nadia, which is in a class by itself. What can I say? It has a primly judgemental lyric (with the occasional less-prim line such as so bugger off, my dear) sung almost nannily amid increasingly censorius and strident strings. Its a goofily dark delight.
As for their cover of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, well, Im not qualified to call that shot. I like it, mostly, although Ill need to play its ending sequence through several hundred times to identify all of the bits of referenced songs. But consider this: I played this album at my office during a long day shortly after receiving it, and a colleague there who was working that long day with me heard it and was quite captivated as he had been by BETTY RULES several weeks earlier. So whaddya know, I may have added one more fan to BETTYs tally without even trying.
One other thing BETTY3 has which is worth listening for: Elizabeth, Amy, and Alyson mix up their vocal positions on some tracks, so that instead of the arrangement being Alyson-Elizabeth-Amy from bottom to top as is usual A Perfect Day has Amy providing the bottom of the chord rather than the top and other tracks similarly rearrange the expected, achieving very nice results which keep things lively and intriguing.
Comments © 2006 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.