Ladytron, ICA, London

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The Independent Culture

A band need a lot going for them to get away with standing stock still and expressionless for an hour. Yet as they unveiled their third album, this Liverpool four-piece were either unsure where their strengths lay or secretly revelled in perversity.

A band need a lot going for them to get away with standing stock still and expressionless for an hour. Yet as they unveiled their third album, this Liverpool four-piece were either unsure where their strengths lay or secretly revelled in perversity.

As a synth-based group that pre-dated the electroclash hype, Ladytron have naturally built up a store of goodwill. On 2001's magical 604, they sounded like the Pet Shop Girls with tales of provincial angst. Well placed to catch the New York wave, they spent a year genning up on the more esoteric Eighties sounds that fuelled the scene, only to release the stodgy Light and Magic, dismal and dismaying apart from such gems as their near-hit "Seventeen".

Despite such an awkward sophomore step, Ladytron still gained a deal with Island Records and tonight was an early chance to hear the fruits of their labours. On first sight, it was business as usual: they took up positions by their keyboards, dressed in implacable black. As ever, Reuben Wu and Daniel Hunt lined up impassively behind the impish Mira Aroyo and the more severe Helen Marnie.

They soon, though, revealed a promising development. "Destroy Everything You Touch" was a sprightly pop tune in the manner of early successes, fleshed out with Light and Magic's moody atmospherics. Since the second album, Ladytron have worked with a rhythm section to buttress their live performances. Now the live instrumentation formed a seamless cyborg whole with the group's icy synths.

This made well-loved numbers all the more welcome, as a hi-energy "He Took Her to a Movie" ended in a hailstorm of drum beats while the final howls of the instrumental "USA" were the electro equivalent of guitar feedback.

When Ladytron moved away from this template, though, they lost their sure footing. Marnie was gaining authority as a frontwoman and worked well with her co-vocalist, though Aroyo's callow voice was weak in comparison.

In a set that gave equal billing to all three albums, Ladytron reminded us Light And Magic was still worth a listen, though when Marnie added a strident touch to the previously cold-hearted "Evil", she ended up sounding like the pop-soul belter Taylor Dayne. This was still preferable to the same record's drab attempts to fetishise technology, "Cracked LCD" and "True Mathematics". Even if Marnie's crisp vocal style was reminiscent of Neil Tennant, her band lacked the wit to carry off ideas more subtle than their take on detached people leading destructive lives.

At least the band had refound its humanity on numbers such as the forthcoming single "Sugar", with a throwaway lyric that belied the density of its guitars and electronics scrunched into one tense wail. When they first emerged, Ladytron had all the promise of the saviours of pop. In a more crowded field of sophisticated tunesmiths, they still shine brightly.

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