Palomine / Hidden Agenda
The Dutch seem to take droll pleasure in speaking flawless English and refining Anglo music forms. Carving out a special space in pop from Holland for well over a decade is Bettie Serveert (literally “Bettie Serves” after an instructional book by tennis champ Betty Stöve), whose unique blend of seductive vocals, bespectacled lyrics, and unexpected guitar rock is nothing short of the archetype all rock/pop bands should shoot for. Carol Van Dijk’s vocals — clear, cool and uncomplicated like a nightstand glass of water — and the inventive and consistently flawless music from the band exist happily together, bound by some of the sharpest songwriting you’re likely to hear. The band rocks and does so honestly, never attempting to overplay or underplay their songs for effect. While many “back to roots” acts these days are contriving to dumb down their sound, Bettie Serveert carefully crafts each track for the simple pleasure of doing it right.
Take for example “Captain of Maybe.” Slow and steady, with muted keening keyboards in the background serving as seagulls, the song is part sea shanty and part power ballad, with Van Dijk’s vocals perfectly capturing the ambivalence and potential spoken of in the lyric. In contrast, “Smack” is a brief playful rocker, whose loose-limbed groove has a nice musical slap that responds each time the word “smack” appears and whose chorus tosses in chirpy electronic freakouts. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Bettie Serveert album without a wink and nod to the Velvet Underground. This time around it’s “White Dogs,” echoing VU in their Loaded period several times in its epic eight-minute length from its strummy acoustics playing a two chord figure to its buildup and opening of the floodgates.
Those familiar with the band will find that little has changed here. Log 22 is a collection of apparently simple songs whose catchiness is quickly overtaken by the many quirks and details the band puts into their music. Bettie Serveert’s output dwarfs — in both quantity and quality — the work of similar, better-known acts like Garbage and Elastica. If strong female-fronted alternative rock is your gig and you haven’t done so already, you owe it to yourself to tap Bettie Serveert’s vein. You’ll be sure to strike gold just about anywhere you strike, and Log 22 is an excellent place to start.