Hailing from the city of Angels, Bitter:Sweet operate almost exclusively on a retro tip. Their second album Drama escorts us through a world where the woman is most definitely on top, unafraid of anything (except perhaps herself) and equipped with many faces with which to manipulate a lesser mortal to her benefit. An aptly named collection, these loungey songs could well be the soundtrack to a suspense thriller or femme-fatale action movie, an ambitious jaunt through the dangerous side of living.
With slyly humorous sensuality, singer Shana Halligan acts to entice even the most resolved of music philistines, typically backed by powerful John Barry-inspired orchestral arrangements or seductively simple jazzy trip-hop. She is the muse to co-star Kiran Shahani (famously of Supreme Beings Of Leisure) and producers Thievery Corporation, men who seem only too happy to be in her shadow…not that it sounds like they have much of a choice. ‘Get What I Want’, for example, is as self-assured a glimpse of the female of the species as a flash of cleavage. Minxy, catchy and fun, Halligan’s light laidback jazz vocal mingles effortlessly with the cha-cha beat, bringing the allure and atmosphere in spades.
“Drink Bloody Marys and do it in the cemetery,” Hannigan drawls salaciously on ‘Come Along With Me’, no doubt through lips impeccably painted with the boldest red, before launching into ‘The Bomb’, a kitsch and subtly wry look at modern existence which also happens to be the theme for hit TV show ‘Lipstick Jungle’. Add that to other primetime and box office credits (‘Desperate Housewives’, ‘The Devil Wears Prada’) and it’s clear that the duo’s flexibility as writers and performers has them in demand.
That’s all well and good, but it’s the song that attempts to monopolise all of these moods that stands out most successfully, its vulnerability squirreled away amongst a flirtatious strength of character. A theatrical and spooky waltz, ‘A Moment’ blends a sense of tortured lust and temptation with a romanticism seldom seen elsewhere on the album. “This could be the last time we have such a moment / what a moment”, Halligan sighs as if she were a siren calling her unsuspecting prey, yet falling prey herself to a feeling beyond her control.
Complemented by the mesmerising title track, a haunting number Goldfrapp would be proud of, and the rare intimacy of ‘Everything’, a beautiful ballad featuring just piano and strings, the variation in Halligan’s vocal repertoire is showcased to impressive effect. Indeed, Drama mixes just about everything about glamour and sex, life and love, to create an aural cocktail to tantalise and mystify. Men will be charmed, women will be empowered; but whatever your gender, Bitter:Sweet stand for pure indulgence and in those stakes have proved they are truly a force to be reckoned with.
UK release date: 30/03/09; www.bittersweetmusic.com