Fifteen years ago this week saw the initial release of Ladytron‘s second album Light and Magic. The UK release wouldn’t follow until close to Christmas time but did add some extra tracks, so we’ll focus on the initial set of fifteen.
The album opens with perhaps Ladytron‘s noisiest piece to date, True Mathematics, in which Russian spoken vocals repeat over an exquisitely noisy backing track. This leads into the opening single, the glorious Seventeen, which was a minor hit in December 2002. It’s a piece about the throwaway attitudes in the world of fashion, and gave the group their first taste of the official UK charts when it peaked at number 68.
Flicking Your Switch is a gloriously dirty piece of electronica which harks back to early 1990s dance – a genre which was considerably younger then than this album itself is now. Which is a sobering thought. Fifteen years later, this sounds exquisitely timeless – perhaps because it was always out of time, it has dated surprisingly well.
Fire is a strange one – it’s catchier than most of the tracks on here, but somehow it doesn’t quite work as well for me. The retro disco sounds and cowbells of Turn it On, on the other hand, are undeniably brilliant.
By 2002, Ladytron were on the verge of hitting the big time – after the first album featured one single just outside the UK Top 100 and one just inside, this time they were close to hitting the top 40. Second single Blue Jeans was very nearly their breakthrough hit, peaking at number 43 in March 2003. Unfortunately that commercial breakthrough never really happened – to date, that’s still their second biggest hit. Which it probably should be, just a little higher up the charts, ideally.
There are a lot of tracks on here – probably way too many, actually, although many are short, such as Cracked LCD, which only clocks in at a couple of minutes in length. But often the longer tracks aren’t quite up to scratch somehow – Black Plastic definitely isn’t as good, anyway.
The third and final single was Evil, which appears here in what initially appears to be a much more spacious five-and-a-half minute form. It’s a good song, but on balance, it probably isn’t quite as good as Blue Jeans, although you can see how it might have resonated with some people at the time. It turns out anyway that most of the extra space is taken up by an untitled bonus track which got trimmed off the single version.
Startup Chime is one of the more melodic tracks in Ladytron‘s catalogue, more of which is always welcome, although there’s something brilliantly catchy about NuHorizons too, even though it doesn’t really feature any singing. Then Cease2xist restores that particular balance, albeit hidden behind a lot of processing, with a great synth-driven pop song.
By this stage you should have just about got the hang of Ladytron – they’re challenging, and often quite loud, but often also reward you with a great song or at least some interesting noises. You’re also irritatingly close to the end though now, and so Re:agents feels a bit like filler too.
But it’s the penultimate and title track that pulls the biggest punch of all. Light and Magic is completely fantastic. The bass arpeggio seems to be completely out of sync with everything else, but somehow it works together wonderfully. It’s catchy and brilliant, and somehow feels as though it belongs at least four decades earlier. I’m not sure I would want to see them try to perform it live though.
Closing the album is another catchy piece, The Reason Why. When the vocal counter-melody comes in a minute or so from the end, you might find you get one of those moments where you hope the album never ends. Truly glorious.
For me, Light and Magic is far and away Ladytron‘s finest work, but as I’ve been told many times on this blog, it isn’t my opinion that matters, it’s what the public think, and for many their first exposure to the quartet would have been when Destroy Everything You Touch was all over the radio, so of course it is 2005’s Witching Hour that they remember. Either way, hopefully we can agree that Light and Magic is an excellent second album.
The version that you want of Light and Magic is probably the 2011 remaster, although honestly I much prefer the artwork from the original UK release.