by Hipster Hamster Hipster Hamster
March 19, 2010

Bettie Serveert are certainly a different animal now than when they got started in the mid-90s.  Back then, they fit right in to the American college-radio scene, sharing the stage with acts like Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk, while along with Pavement and Liz Phair helped establish Matador as one of the country’s most important independent labels.  If Bettie Serveert (“Bettie Serves,” in English) doesn’t ring quite as familiar as the monoliths of indie rock I just name-dropped, don’t worry.  The Dutch band didn’t garner quite the same following as those giants—at least on this side of the Atlantic—but their 1992 album Palomino is regarded by many critics as one of the archetypal albums of 90s college rock.  These days though, the indie scene’s preferred sound has shifted away a little from the fuzzed-out guitars and rambling, mumbled vocals that were once so popular.

And with modern indie moving toward bigger, hookier choruses, dense sonic textures and poppy melodies, Bettie Serveert’s Pharmacy of Love fits right in.  Album opener “Deny All” kicks off with a squeal of feedback and pop-punk guitars drenched in chunky distortion, but Carol Van Dyk’s saccharine lead vocals belie the pop sensibilities at the heart of the album.  With Pharmacy of Love, the band focuses on the elements of their old sound that best fit today’s musical landscape (a knack for catchy guitar leads, a singer with a strong voice and cute-as-a-button delivery) and runs with them, to great effect.  They’ve toned down the distortion and fuzz in favor of a more polished, better-produced sound that finds Van Dyk’s voice forming the backbone of the songs just as often as do the guitars.

While the guitar is still front and centre instrumentally, Van Dyk and Peter Visser keep their riffs decidedly melodic and pleasant.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and the band is very good at writing and maintaining poppy melodies, they do run the risk of sounding routine and familiar.  To escape this, the band throws in some unexpected bursts of dissonance—an out-of-the-blue bridge on standout track “Semaphore,” the tense, pressure-building verses of closer “What They Call Love”—and manages to keep most of the album fresh and engaging.

There are a few missteps.  Album centerpiece “Calling” begins with a mess of swirling, atmospheric guitars that goes on for much too long before the rest of the song kicks in, robbing the album of the momentum generated by “Souls Travel” and “The Pharmacy.”  Once it gets going, “Calling” is a good enough song, but the botched introduction is too much to overcome.  Apart from that, my complaints are minor.  A few formulaic choruses and less-than-great hooks are more than made up for by the rest of the album.

Pharmacy of Love is a statement that Bettie Serveert can still be relevant in today’s musical landscape.  They’ve molded their traditional formula into something that feels fresh and exciting, without abandoning the elements that helped them succeed early in their career. While it’s not perfect, their later albums showcases Carol Van Dyk’s voice as well as any of Bettie Serveert’s albums ever has, and the result is an engaging, catchy listen.

Pharmacy of Love will be released March 23, 2010 on Second Motion Records.

out of 5 weasels.

Complete lyric book here.

  1. Deny All
  2. Semaphore
  3. Love Lee
  4. Mossie
  5. The Pharmacy
  6. Souls Travel
  7. Calling
  8. Change4Me
  9. What They Call Love

Visit Bettie Serveert online:  myspace.com/bettieserveertbettieserveert.com

“Deny All” music video

“Love Lee” (live)

“Kid’s Alright” live at Pinkpop 1995

Never trust a hamster. Support the artist and find out for yourself. WestCoastWeasel.com encourages purchasing Pharmacy of Love locally at Red Cat Records in Vancouver, B.C, any independent record store of your choice or online here.

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2 Responses to “Turncoat Turntable 017: Bettie Serveert – Pharmacy of Love”

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