The Vettes, Gold Star (Album Review)

51zterfovxl-_ss500Slicing synthesizers, thumping drums, march tempos and big hooks—it must be the 1980s.

Actually, the time is now, the late 2010s, and the ’80s-inspired Vettes write and record counterintuitively fresh music.

For the Vettes’ second album, Gold Star, the band combines meticulous songwriting and arranging with buoyant studio performances. Gold Star features 10 original songs and an unexpected rendition of LeRoux’s classic Gulf Coast ballad, “New Orleans Ladies.”

A quintet mostly composed of siblings, the Vettes formed in 2005. The group’s discography is small but commendable. The past decade saw only three official releases: 2008’s T.V. EP; 2010’s album-length Plasticville; and, released this year, the full-length Gold Star.

Front woman Rachel Vette sings lead while her brothers Todd, guitar; Chad, keyboards; Brian, drums; plus non-family band member Mitch Gray, bass; play authentically ’80s-pitched accompaniment.

Gold Star’s opening song, “Hard Way,” confirms such vintage Vettes influences as Depeche Mode and Duran Duran. But “Hard Way” succeeds on its own, without sounding too imitative. The band learned its ’80s music lessons well. The especially upbeat “On Top,” for instance, and its jackpot chorus could be an outtake from an early-’80s Duran Duran album.

In “Survive the Night” Rachel Vettes’ unadorned vocals suggest such minimalist ’80s female singers as Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Missing Persons’ Dale Bozzio. She provides all of the passion necessary, however, for the rousing, arena-ready chorus in “Flip the Bird.”

If Katy Perry is on the hunt for some good songs, the outsized “Bird” and another of the Vettes’ empowerment songs, “Diamonds in a Jar,” would serve the pop star well, in the studio and, even more so, the arena. The same goes for “Swagger Jackin’.” A sassy, fun number with playful rhyming lyrics, it’s a great summer song.

Of course, “New Orleans Ladies,” retitled “New Orleans Lady,” is the elephant in the room. Despite the transformative synth-and-staccato treatment the Vettes give the song, its beloved melody doesn’t go missing in the band’s clever reinvention.

The time, work, attention to detail and money the Vettes invested Gold Star is obvious. It deserves a gold star.

—John Wirt