The debut album by Salford's The Ting Tings comes hot on the heels of their No.1 single "That's Not My Name", a nugget of pop gold that comes on like a genetic splicing of Toni Basil's "Micky" and The Knack's "My Sharona". The bulk of We Started Nothing follows a similar formula, navigating a path between the smart, angular indie of CSS, Bonde Do Role, et al and the pop mainstream. Here and there, they pull it off perfectly: the stutter-rap of "Fruit Machine" sees vocalist Katie White leading on some poor sap with sultry charisma and lip-gloss sass, while the excellent "Shut Up and Let Me Go" is snappy dance-punk in the spirit of Blondie's "Rapture" or Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love". Elsewhere, they branch out with mixed results. "We Walk" builds from quiet flourishes of piano into a surprisingly steely manifesto: "Smash the rest up/Burn it down/Put us in the corner cause we're into ideas", sneers White. Rather less good is "Traffic Light", a light, jazzy number that employs a number of somewhat forced driving metaphors to describe a relationship hit the skids. Still, it's a debut with promise, and a string of good singles is nothing to be sniffed at. --Louis Pattison
Review by Heather Phares
In pop music, catchiness and obnoxiousness often go hand in hand, but on the Ting Tings' debut album, We Started Nothing, they're locked in a death grip. The duo's new wave-worshiping mix of dance and indie pop -- which grafts chugging guitar and bashed drums onto looping structures and proudly plastic keyboards -- is polished, but far from polite. In fact, the way the Ting Tings repeat their cheap and cheerful hooks until their listeners' ears are about to break often borders on annoying. Singer/guitarist Katie White's snotty, singsong vocal delivery and flat rhymes are part cheerleader, part playground chant, and a tiny bit of punk snarl; "That's Not My Name," on which White sneers "Are you calling me darling? Are you calling me bird?," even sounds a little like riot grrrl sloganeering filtered through a decade's worth of pop. Even when White sings more melodically, as on "Traffic Light" and "We Walk," the energy, attitude, and -- above all -- the repetition can still grate, even if you're tapping your foot to the songs. However, the Ting Tings manage to stay on the catchy side with "Fruit Machine," a Lily Allen-ish bit of cheeky bordering on vindictive pop, and on "Keep Your Head" and "Be the One," which tone down the Ting Tings' energy to more manageable but still lively levels. "Great DJ" and "Shut Up and Let Me Go" (which sounds like a Yeah Yeah Yeahs parody/tribute) are also standouts, and it's no surprise they've been used in commercials -- they're so short and memorable, they feel like jingles waiting for products to endorse. Since they've got a real knack for writing songs that stick in your head whether you want them to or not, the Ting Tings' songs are fun in very small doses. They're a singles band at heart, though, and they wear out their welcome all too quickly on We Started Nothing.
The Ting Tings:
We Started Nothing
For a reasonable price, English indie-pop duo the Ting Tings are selling anti-establishment "fuck you"'s by the bottle. Plus some barely serviceable party tunes. And, oh yeah, they're kinda sexy, too. Actually, it's tough to tell exactly which readymade, tongue-in-cheek pop angle they're adopting, but the duo's genesis unequivocally stems from a mutual jadedness towards the record industry. Both Katie White and Jules De Martino cut their teeth in teenage pop groups only to see their music career as adults hamstrung by bum record deals and one false start after another. Bent on seeking vengeance, the pair packs loads of not-so-subtle jabs at the industry into their spotlight-hungry debut, but despite the tough talk, they can't avoid sounding like the simplistic saccharine pop lifers they are.
Of course, no one expects an album like We Started Nothing to carry the torch for subversive, incendiary popular song (see Robyn, Santogold, and M.I.A., among others, for that); we just demand good hooks and lots of 'em. Any hand-wringing over the Ting Tings's conceit as Top 40 mutineers is rendered moot by the inadequacy of their pop craftsmanship. Shticks may make for easy initial criticism, especially with great pop acts already straddling the lines between the charts and indie (cf. Lily Allen, the Pipettes, Annie), but when a band sport featherweight singles like "Shut Up and Let Me Go" and "That's Not My Name", they'd be lucky if listeners pay attention long enough to even notice their bit.
The duo self-produced Nothing and, thanks to their hefty experience, they accurately cop pretty much any genre they want, from fratty new wave to mopey twee-pop. Problem is, they pay little attention to detail. On a breezy summer jam like single "Great DJ", this can pass as shrewd understatement, but other tracks don't benefit from the same. "Fruit Machine" is a grinding bitchslap that never really connects, wanting so badly to sound just a smidgen as tough as Peaches or M.I.A. but inevitably melting into painfully adorable, boring Toni Basil cadences. When the time comes to really crank up the party engine, White and De Martino prove even more shorthanded. After club-footed dance numbers "We Walk" and "Shut Up and Let Me Go" sink the album, the duo tries to bring it home with the six minute-plus self-titled closer, a seemingly endless, riff-less stab at B-52's bacchanalia that never gets off the ground.
Maybe it's my own vengeful sadism talking, but the Ting Tings sound much more engaging when sad. "Be the One" and "Traffic Light" may not possess the immediacy to qualify as standout tracks, but the goth-tinged twee of the former and aching lullaby of the latter makes for the most fully fleshed-out ideas amidst a sea of half-baked inklings here. Maybe once the Ting Tings stop trying so hard to convince everyone they're having a good time and start actually having a good time, these cute little ballads will no longer be their sole redeeming quality. For now, we're stuck listening to them flounder for revenge like they haven't learned a damn thing from Shakespeare or The Wrath of Khan.
- Adam Moerder, June 19, 2008