Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Three years is a long haul between albums, especially for a new band. So it’s no surprise that Seratones 2.0 is substantially different from the band’s 2016 garage-rocking debut. Jimbo Mathus is out as producer, Cage the Elephant’s Bradley Shultz is in, and the onetime Shreveport, Louisiana quartet is now a quintet with a new keyboardist and guitarist.
What hasn’t changed is frontwoman/guitarist/singer A.J. Haynes whose bold, sassy photo is the lone picture on the disc’s cover. It’s only a matter of time until she breaks away for a solo career following the examples of other scenery eschewing frontwomen from Janis Joplin to Chaka Kahn and Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes. This may be credited to the Seratones band, and the material is co-written with other members, but musically it’s Haynes and a somewhat faceless backing.
Mix the Pretenders with Prince, Blondie and Shannon & the Clams and you’ve got a reasonable indication of Seratones’ fresh attack. There’s still a firm foundation of rock as the driving drums of the title track affirm. But these are soul songs, some with string and synth accompaniment, that are often powered by a dynamic rhythm section supporting the spirited, spotlight-stealing vocals of Haynes. There are obvious references to the ’60s, especially in the slow dance “Lie to My Face” and the bluesy Motown groove of “Who Are You Now.” But you’ll have to look twice to be sure “Sad Boi” isn’t a cover of an obscure old Prince B-side with its slithering keyboard line and funky bass. Haynes even sounds like the purple one when she shifts into falsetto for the sparse, synth-based “Permission,” with the androgynous lyrics, “I’ll let you put on my makeup. I can make you feel dangerous.” And you’ll definitely think you’ve changed discs to an old Blondie release as Haynes sounds so similar to Debbie Harry on the new wave “Heart Attack,” a tune that even includes a Clem Burke-styled drum fill, that you’ll be searching the notes to see if Harry guests.
Okay, so originality isn’t Seratones’ strong suit. There’s enough raw energy in the thumping hard funk of “Gotta Get to Know Ya” and especially Haynes voice when she sings “I’m getting tired of all of your bullshit alibis” on the pissed off “Lie to My Face,” to power any stage the band plays. The album closes with its only ballad, the piano and voice dominated “Crossfire” which, although a lovely showcase for a more delicate approach in Haynes’ voice, seems a bit out of place amongst the higher intensity contents of the rest of the appropriately named POWER.
The Seratones’ sabbatical was well spent. The band’s newfound muscular R&B breathes new life into their sound, Shultz’s production is tough yet layered, and with the marketing heft of the New West label behind them, the group is poised to join other contemporary soul outfits like St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Southern Avenue bringing gospelized rocking to the masses. Like the chemical from which their moniker is somewhat derived, Seratones’ music will leave you feeling more elated and euphoric after a single spin.