I first came across the Dum Dum Girls early last year, a few months after the release of their EP End of Daze. I quickly was hooked on their hazy take on 60’s-era garage-pop and worked my way backwards through their catalog. I enjoyed their bubblegum melodies and big hooks, and as a result, Only in Dreams had an extended residency in my car for a couple of months. While it’s easy to pinpoint the limits to their style (simplistic drumbeats, 3-4 basic chords, etc.), it worked in small doses, and it didn’t hurt that the lyrics were alternately clever and heart-felt. With songs as great as “Bedroom Eyes”, there’s no reason to spend much time nit-picking these slight concerns.
With their new album, the Dum Dum Girls decided it was time for a stylistic shift, ditching the 60’s as their prime influence and switching to a more 80’s-inspired sound. From the outset, one hears the addition of synths and the use of heavily reverbed drums that give off that heavily-processed 80’s pop style. The synths don’t dominate the sound, as might be expected, but are kept more in the background; guitars are still a dominant presence, either through slick lead lines or through arpeggiated strums that cut through the mix.
There is a question of what inspired this new direction–did Dee Dee spend a few late nights watching her Drive Blu-Ray? Or was it simply a recognition of the limits of her previous style? Last year I saw a couple of openers at different shows that either were influenced by the Dum Dum Girls directly, or they had found the original influences and decided that it was a viable option. So it makes sense from both an artistic and commercial perspective to begin broadening horizons.
In the end, I’m not sure it entirely works. There are some great moments on the album, but too often the staged artificiality of the music acts as a drawback, and cuts against taking any of the lyrics seriously. However, there is something to be said to being able to craft a seemingly effortless pop song, which I think the Dum Dum Girls accomplished with “Are You Okay?” Here, the light airy music with the sugary melody provide an effective dichotomy with the pleading lyrics. This is the moment when you could say the new direction pays off.