Hook Me Up

by: The Veronicas

Based on the vampy, electro-pop title track and its accompanying video -- which features the Origliasso twins dressed in school uniforms (a teen pop tradition dating back at least to Britney Spears' debut almost a decade earlier), clutching each other in the corridors of a drab, Orwellian academy -- it would seem that the Veronicas decided to take a page from the t.A.T.u. playbook for their follow-up to The Secret Life of the Veronicas. That would be only fitting, considering that the sisters helped compose one of t.A.T.u.'s biggest hits, "All About Us," and it's somewhat accurate insofar as Hook Me Up is a far more electronic, dance-based record than their sterling pop/rock debut. There's also the shoutily awkward "I wanna kiss a girl/I wanna kiss a boy" bridge of "Take Me on the Floor," and a decidedly histrionic tone to most of the material (the album's working title was "Overdramatic," which would been entirely appropriate), although that's not exactly a new development for them. But whereas t.A.T.u. are an unabashedly manufactured outfit whose appeal is essentially intertwined with their (or their handlers') knack for image and media manipulation, the Veronicas -- who seem to be in control of their own career to an impressive extent for a pair of 22-year-old girls -- are the rare teen pop act for whom visual presentation is almost entirely incidental. (Note, for instance, that they haven't appeared on either of their album covers -- which is practically unheard of in teen pop -- and they're 22-year-old identical twin sisters.) Their first album revealed Lisa and Jess Origliasso to be exceptionally competent songwriters and striking, if not necessarily nuanced, singers, and despite its generic punk-pop trappings it was one of the most assured teen pop debuts in recent memory, boasting several slices of peerless popcraft including one of the most exciting singles of the 2006, hands down, in "4ever." Simply put, Hook Me Up is an improvement upon its predecessor in almost every regard, consolidating its strengths while making bold and exploratory forward leaps that verge on a wholesale stylistic reinvention. It may not contain one individual moment that quite matches the unrestrained glory of "4ever" (which was after all written by teen pop's undisputed patriarch/genius Max Martin, who is absent from these proceedings though hardly missed), but that song's vocal pyrotechnics and sense of urgency are discernible throughout the album, helping to make it a tighter, leaner listen than the debut despite an equivalent running time. "Untouched" bursts out of the gate with majestic, menacing string stabs and a driving synth-rock pulse beneath its stuttered verses and breathlessly obsessive refrain. "This Is How It Feels" is even more breakneck and impassioned, fueled by anger rather than lust, while "I Can't Stay Away" and "Someone Wake Me Up" echo the anguished Europop melodrama of Secret Life's "Leave Me Alone" and t.A.T.u.'s "All About Us" (not a coincidence: Billy Steinberg had a hand in all four songs.) And the delicious rock-disco "Revenge Is Sweeter (Than You Ever Were)" practically says it all in its title alone. The girls also lighten up occasionally: "Popular" is a brash, half-rapped send-up of celebrity privilege (take away line: "my name is my credit card") that exposes the twins' Aussie accents to excellent effect, and "This Love" (one of only two songs not credited to the Origliassos) is an utterly charming dance-rock confection that, in its last minute, abruptly unleashes a euphoric synthesizer countermelody whose nod to a-ha's "Take on Me" is unmissable. Yes, the album may be tricked out with robotic synths and programmed beats as per the dictates of the teen pop moment (almost every major artist of the genre made a danceward shift in 2007 -- Hilary Duff, Aly & AJ, Britney Spears, Ashley Tisdale, Skye Sweetnam -- with Kelly Clarkson one of the lone holdouts in the rock-confessional camp), or more broadly bowing to the '80s fetish that has dominated entire the 2000s -- but at their core these are expertly crafted pop/rock tunes that anyone who enjoyed Secret Life should have no trouble embracing. In fact, this album's glistening electronic trappings -- besides being enjoyable in their own right -- only serve to enhance the integrity of the Veronicas' aesthetic by elucidating the grand driving tension at the heart of confessional teen pop: the juxtaposition of adolescent angst with pop's transcendent sweetness. (And for the curmudgeons, they've included a couple tracks at the end which hew more closely to the grungy rock of their debut -- most notably "In Another Life," a sudsy tearjerker of a power ballad that closes the album with its most melodramatic moment, which for this album is no small feat.) Hook Me Up is a strong confirmation of the Veronicas' considerable talents, and easily one of the finest teen pop releases of the year. [Rhino issued a clean version of the album in 2008.] ~ K. Ross Hoffman

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