Ra Ra Riot was once the ideal band for those grey upstate New York days, when you felt as blue as “Ghost Under Rocks” or wanted something that waxed poetic like “Dying Is Fine.” If you really felt like moving and shaking at all, you’d throw on “Too Too Too Fast.” With the band’s second album, you have more choices for those bright moments in your otherwise meaningless existence, although the lyrics still hold a sense of angst and frustration. “Too Dramatic” and “Boy” are probably your go-to tracks, the latter’s choppy lyrics getting your adrenaline running regardless of your gender. But with albums like The Rhumb Line and The Orchard, the band really knows what it is: a musical pastiche of teenage desires with a string section.
Beta Love does not stray from this formula. While that’s a great thing for fans, perhaps even the band is starting to find it a bit stale. That’s not to downplay the excitement and bop-til-you-drop feel of hits like “Beta Love” and “Dance With Me.” But the tried-and-tested formula in those tracks can come off as too tried — see “Angel Please,” a key-changing little ditty which slows down in the middle and never fully bounces back from the lapse in tempo, even when it seems to try. But that might be because of its position in the album, which kicks off with high-octane dance beats in the beginning, rolls downhill after track 3, and hits bottom with “What I Do For U”, a particularly strange dud where Wesley Miles tries his hand at Usher-esque vocals. But with the haunting “When I Dream,” the album starts to pick back up, closing out the Björk-style sweeps in “Wilderness” and the pulsing “I Shut Off.” But even after it ends, the album leaves you wanting just a little more.
So maybe my biggest issue with Beta Love is more in its pacing than in its content. I like an album with consistency. If you’ve picked up Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July or Between The Buried and Me’s Parallax EPs, you’ll notice a consistent theme in all of the tracks. There’s a flow. A chain. A bonding agent that keeps the whole package together. Maybe the theme’s swimming pretty in the waters of Ra Ra Riot’s latest attempt, but the flow slows to a trickle too soon, and the plumbers don’t get to the faucet in time.
Tracks to love: “Wilderness”; “Dance With Me”; “I Shut Off”
Tracks to avoid: “What I Do For U”, “Is It Too Much”
Final grade: B-