The world of the husband/wife entertainment double act is a notoriously odd one, both professionally and personally (just ask Paul Daniels’ publicist. Or any of Abba). However, when done right, the clash of male and female sensibilities and styles along with the possible sexual frisson (or friction) provoked from working alongside a spouse can work wonderfully (Gainsbourg and Birkin, anyone?). Whether this crossed the mind of Wolf Parade second-hand man Dan Boeckner on deciding to team up with writer wife Alexei Perry in order to create beautiful music remains to be seen.
2007’s Plague Park by the resultant band, Handsome Furs, seemed a natural progression forward from Wolf Parade’s ramshackle horror pop, only minus the frenetic yelping and drum kit. The follow-up, Face Control, seems to veer even further away from the sound upon which Boeckner built his image as one of Canada’s premier indie darlings. Buoyed by a long sojourn in Russia’s heartland, Boeckner and Perry have cobbled together an album which makes it clear from the outset that Handsome Furs can and should be headed somewhere far more interesting than their mother band.
Opener ‘Legal Tender’ chugs along promisingly enough, all driving beats, synths and fancy hand claps, making it clear that though much has changed on Mount Zoomer (geddit?), it’s business as usual on the indie dancefloor tune front. Similarly, it’s obvious that the spectre of them indie dancefloor kings, New Order, lingers over ‘Face Control’, particularly on ‘All We Want, Baby, Is Everything’, which to my ears sounded like a bastardised ‘Ceremony’. ‘Nyet Spasiba’ (Russian for ‘No thank you’, trivia fans) even goes as far as to plunder the infamous ‘Blue Monday’ beat breakdown.
Songs like ‘Talking Hotel Arbat Blues’ seem to mark the most progression for the ‘Furs though, thumping along like Joan Jett channelled through The Pixies, and unashamedly wearing its classic American rock ‘n’ roll credentials on its sleeve. There’s a definite restraint that’s obvious here, both in Boeckner’s vocals, which have in the past come close enough to being grating, and in the band’s slow crawl towards writing danceable pop tunes, which is what this album seems to signal.
While Plague Park was almost Arcade Fire-esque in its world weariness, ‘Face Control’ revels in Boeckner and Perry’s new found confidence and optimism in discovering that they have become far more than just a side project. The only worry is the obvious one of them losing their uniqueness to mediocrity and mainstream success eventually, but there’s no fear of it happening in the immediate future.