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Album review: Noisettes' 'Wild Young Hearts'

September 22, 2009 |  6:30 am


The Noisettes sometimes sound like a 1960s girl group (maybe the Cookies) but different; or like a 1980s New Wave band (hello, Blondie) but different; or like a turn-of-the-'90s electro-pop outfit (oh, Snap!) but different. This young London band has no shame about mining, mixing and matching influences. But the wit and panache of its star, the singer and bassist Shingai Shoniwa, lifts the trio out of its costume trunk.

The first Noisettes album, 2007's "What's the Time Mr. Wolf?" was a rougher, more rockish affair. The group's latest, "Wild Young Hearts," is far more aspirational, with focused, hooky songs and a clean sound reflecting the involvement of producer Jim Abbiss, who helped crack open the careers of the Arctic Monkeys and Adele.

Shoniwa, guitarist Dan Smith and drummer Jamie Morrison prove adept at both dance-floor workouts and jazz-infused cocktail pop, and the singer-songwriterly "Atticus" chases sidewalks quite successfully.

But Shoniwa is too strong-willed to be completely contained within these stylish little sonic ensembles. The sharp edge in her voice -- evocative of Etta James, Cyndi Lauper and contemporaries like Chrisette Michele -- complements lyrics that tread the same ground as chick lit but with a sharper and more feminist step.

"24 Hours" laments the loss of a one-night stand, but Shoniwa is the one who walked. "Beat of My Heart" dares a wallflower boy out of his bower. "Never Forget You" sweetly recalls a conversation between best girlfriends, now grown. "Cheap Kicks" details the ugliness of a breakup with remarkable lucidity.

We've heard these stories before, from other ingenues pushing against containment. Shoniwa puts her own spin on the stance without pomp or arrogance. Ably assisted by her pop history-schooled bandmates, she's made the kind of record that could change the life of someone who just picked it up for fun.

It's not a masterpiece, not a groundbreaker, but it's going to be somebody's favorite.

-- Ann Powers

"Wild Young Hearts"
Three stars (out of four)