April 06, 2003

Betie Serveert "Log 22"

Bettie Serveert should win a prize for consistently wonderful music. They've gone from critic's darlings to utterly forgotlings, but that's never slowed them down. They hit a home-run almost immediatly in 1992 when they released their still-wonderful-after-all-these-years debut, Palomine. They erred when they took three years to release their follow-up. Lamprey was a bit of a step down from the greatness--which, unfortunately, deflated Bettie Serveert's rising star, and, like many other great bands during those "alternative" years, were quietly forgotten. I thought they were done for when, two years later, they released the universally-panned Dust Bunnies (let's not mention it again) but they continued on, releasing a live album of Velvet Underground covers (!), and making a lovely return to form with 2000's Private Suit.

Now it's 2003, and Bettie Serveert have a new record, and, luckily, it's stunning. It's lush in the right places, it's hard-rockin' at times, and they've come close to sounding like a completely new band. Gone are the rough, dirty-faced indie rock sounds of yore, and lead singer Carol van Dik sounds more like a pop diva than rocker. It's a good thing, too, because her vocal range is good enough to handle most any style. The opening "Wide-Eyed Fools" would make you think that they'd turned into the Cardigans, but then the following "Smack" sounds like a lost Throwing Muses song. (Indeed, van Dyk has always sounded a little bit like Kristin Hersh.)

The lush pop-rock style works quite well for Bettie Serveert, as does their insistence on not sticking to one particular style of song. The soft, gentle acoustic "Captain of Maybe" and the rather telling "De Diva" recall the greatness of Palomine, while "Given," "Wide-Eyed Fools" and "Cut 'n Dried" are mellow pop numbers. They turn on their rock side with "Smack" and "Not Coming Down," which is similar to the band's influence, Sebadoh; they even indulge in their Velvet Underground influence on "White Dogs" and "The Ocean, My Floor." All in all they're a more confident-sounding band. The only major flaw with Log 22 is that it's a bit too long. "White Dogs" and "The Ocean, My Floor" are two wonderful (and rather long) Velvet Underground-style jams, and they sound great, but two of them on the same album--or perhaps so close to each other in the sequence--makes the album drag at the end.

A minor quibble, though. While moments might remind you of their glory day, they're certainly not guilty of retreading their past, and Log 22 is a great place to start rejoin Bettie Serveert. While not their best record (that honor goes to Palomine) it's easily their second-best record. Though it's probably never goint to happen, we're still dreaming that Palomine will receive the Slanted & Enchanted/Exile in Guyville reissue treatment. It's okay, though, because Log 22 proves that, ten years later, this onetime critic's darling is still capable of making an excellent record.

--Joseph Kyle

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