Third Time’s a Charm?
After a four-year hiatus since sophomore effort Season of Poison, synth pop syndicate Shiny Toy Guns has reconvened for III. The group’s prior album saw its male songwriter, John Petree, take the material in an Evanescence-like direction, enlisting newcomer Sisely Treasure for girl vocal duties. Fair-haired frontwoman Carah Faye Charnow, who was one half of the male–female combo on Shiny Toy Guns’ debut, We Are Pilots, took a leave of absence in the interim, jetting off for Sweden to find herself. Well, there must have been something in the herring, because with her return on III, there’s a taste of Scandinavian pop in almost every cut.
Dance ballad “Waiting Alone” stutters with kinetic percussion as Carah’s soaring vocals bloom with dewy Euro gloss. Its masculine–feminine energy, whizzbang synth touches and sing-song chorus affect a Space Age ABBA, or even their ’90s Swede counterpart, Ace of Base. Another shade of disco is experienced in “If I Lost You,” a mellow and evocative number pulsing with stark robot beats. The song’s lean verse has Carah applying the coolness and longing of a Debbie Harry vocal as echoing claps bounce and fade into the background. The track then gradates into a swooning Roxette-style chorus—yes, another Swedish pop reference—where Carah trades arching croons with a guitar lifted from the Twin Peaks opening. Strangely, it all works in a guilty-pleasure, ’80s pablum kind of way.
Still, III isn’t without its question mark moments—and there are quite a few, in fact. “Speaking Japanese” juts out as an odd, here-and-gone exercise. Its tweaked, rude synth line and high-contrast, “club banger” production cues sound like an obligatory nod to Ke$ha-style electroclash, but nowhere else on the album does this aggressive, booty-quaking style return. Carah even tries on a “dirty girl” voice incongruent with her delivery on every other track. Thus, you’re left to question it all as a cheap tack-on for the sake of doing “what the kids like these days.” Elsewhere, male vocalist John Petree flies solo on “Mercy,” a by-the-book, workaday number synthesizing The Killers and ’90s Duran Duran in a dishwater centrifuge.
Though Shiny Toy Guns’ latest is far from perfect, “Fading Listening” is its clear peroxide highlight, marrying the beat and guitar work of Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson with the longing and atmospherics of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” If this pairing sounds absolutely unlikely, what’s even stranger is that it works. The shimmering cut’s late-night vibe and Georgio Moroder beats, as well as John Petree’s Bee Gees-ready falsetto, come together like a seamless disco best-of reel. Ultimately, it’s the group’s sudsy get-up-and-go that keeps parts of III from completely falling down today’s chasm of faceless, lug-headed dance music. That or I’m just desperate for a Space Age ABBA.