Without a reliable internet connection for the last few weeks (phone browsing is not all it’s cracked up to be), finding out what’s new, getting access to what’s new and listening to such newness has been a difficult task. Living the solo life in new York, I’m isolated from those other, more social influences on my acquisition processes too and so, in times of scarcity, I’ve returned, again and again, to those six hundred or so tracks which have found their way, through good fortune or luck, onto my little MP3 player. Riding the subway too much and erranding my way through the city, I now have a frightening command over the lyrics, structure, instrumentation and even the vocal flourishes of those 600 tracks. In a way that almost no cultural product should be, I have exploited these songs to their endpoint, where once rich, textured, thick music becomes threadbare with use, worn down to its most elemental beats, accompanying the sounds of traffic, the screech of the subway. The unprecedented prostitution of these songs for their entertaining, distracting value wouldn’t normally lend itself to really thinking about them but today, on my last subway ride in the city, I couldn’t help but ponder The Ting Tings.
2008 was a big year for the Manchester-based group. Katie White (the blonde one) had been touring with girl group TKO for a time, supporting the likes of Atomic Kitten with a band that was signed to Katie’s dad’s label (started with a 1 million pound injection from his lottery-winning father – Katie’s grandfather). Jules de Martino (the guy one) had been involved since he wrote a couple of songs for TKO and the two bonded over a mutual love for Portishead. How ‘That’s Not My Name‘, the minimalist electro ditty about fumbled nomenclature that set the duo on a track that would ultimately see them sell two million copies of debut We Started Nothing grew out of this shared passion is anyone’s guess. But contrary to the band’s album claim, they started a very real public fascination with drum machines and slightly yell-y British accented female vocals. The success of ‘Great DJ’ and the aggressive ‘Shut Up and Let Me Go’ proved that the band had hit on a formula for success.
But then they just died in the ass. Like totally disappeared. By the time December 2009 rolled around and we went to see them play at music festival The Big Day Out, brother J was muttering under his breath and only came hesitantly to appease an over-eager me. They were hugely exciting and then, suddenly, hugely tiring – such was the concentrated nature of the pop that the Ting Tings were pushing. Late 2010 saw the release of a random single, ‘Hands’ whose short radio life only confirmed that our love affair with the band was over but February, 2012 promises a follow-up, continuing the band’s album title legacy of promising little and delivering more with a new LP, Sounds From Nowheresville. None of that context, however, comes out of ‘We Walk’, the only Ting Ting’s song that survives on my little black SanDisk. Instead, the pseudo-ballad, replete with heart-rending keys and a heavy-breathing based beat (although no song will ever take the mantle from Spoon’s ‘Stay Don’t Go’), remains as a nugget reminder of how fun the Ting Tings were. Even when they’re trying to be serious (Coldplay-style abstract lyrics hint at a break-up theme), there is a jauntiness, a hyperactive quality to the percussion and to White’s ever-crisp vocals that is really endearing. They threaten a total emotional breakdown around the 2′ mark with wailing harmonies and a reduction in tempo but a cute shout from Katie stays the course and we continue bubbling along. May we all be as happily bitter as The Ting Tings.
The Ting Tings – ‘We Walk’