Bis hit the scene a couple of years ago and weren't admired so much as they
were adored, as one would adore a puppy. One listen and you wanted to adopt the three Scottish teen-agers. They did a lot to enhance the cute factor,
including using big-eyed anime-type caricatures for album cover art, naming
their label Teen-C Recordings, and just being generally, well, darling.
There was something vaguely condescending about the way people took to them, almost as if they were granting their little brothers permission to join the
party in the basement.
Still, Bis and their weird kind of Youth Power (think "girl power," but with
more substance) are not only persisting but growing. On their new album
produced by former Gang of Four leader Andy Gill Bis crank out
pop riffs and shout-along hooks at an alarming rate. Fast, loud and smart, John Disco and Manda Rin have created a manifesto for a
new kind of pop one that stands a chance to become the New Pop.
Losing the drum machines in favor of sampled percussion was a good move; it
has the effect of fleshing out the sound and lending a backbone to Bis'
revolutionary fervor. Their jerky hooks are still all elbows and knees, but
now there's a little padding there. "I'm a Slut" (RealAudio excerpt), about an abusive
relationship, and "Action and Drama" (RealAudio excerpt), a paean to the big personalities of
'80s chart-toppers, are both stand-outs, impossibly poppy and devoid of
fluff. With "Detour," the first single, the band rips off the guitar sound
Portishead ripped off from spy movies of the '60s, but Bis does it with
panache. A couple of the forays into straightahead dance music, songs such
as "Eurodisco" and "Shopaholic," aren't as successful, though each sports
either a bridge or a hook that compensates.
Social Dancing is nearly always crafty this way the verses are
more than just four repeated phrases, with real ducks and turns in the
melodies, and no chorus is simply a title shouted over and over. At times
the sloganeering can obscure rhyme and meter. It's most awkward on "Listen
Up" (RealAudio excerpt), the album closer though thankfully there's no trace of angst.
Bis have gone from wide-eyed to impassioned you can hear them trying
to climb the charts without compromising. With the smart pop hooks on
Social Dancing, and with its "power to the (young) people" sentiment,
it's possible they'll succeed. They certainly deserve to.