Certain things we know to be true. For instance, a CD with a picture of a monkey dressed up as a jockey riding a horse on it is bound to be brilliant. However, a CD with a winged dolphin having sex with a winged horse with a snake coming out of its mouth? That's just confusing.
Since its artwork contains both of these things, Life By Misadventure by British electro-rock quartet Bee Stings could feasibly sound like anything. And, by and large, it does. Equal parts Blondie and The Prodigy, Life By Misadventure by Bee Stings is a sumptuous record that inexplicably manages to sound flawlessly pristine and utterly filthy all at once.
Bee Stings are a British dance-rock-pop band fronted by a woman who's not averse to shouting angrily at times. Yeah, we thought of Republica when we read that sentence too – but keep reading, because any similarities between Republica and Bee Stings are distant and vague, as Bee Stings' album Life By Misadventure shows.
Bee Stings boast that Life By Misadventure took two years and three studios to record and, listening to it, you can see why – it's a dense, extraordinary record that's as polished and slick as any mass market pop music you've ever heard, but it still manages to retain enough character to warrant repeated listens. Take You Got My Number, for example. With its squelchy groove and clanging guitar it'd be perfect for the next Britney Spears album – or at least it would be if it wasn't about ginger hair or didn't contain a sort of jazz-opera interlude. In lesser hands you can see You Got My Number dissolving into a sludgy mess, but Bee Stings manage to make it crackle with life.
A lot of this admittedly rests with lead singer Valkyrie, whose arsenal of angry yelling, orgasmic sighing and straight-up pop sensibilities is invaluable here. Left as instrumentals, some of the tracks on Life By Misadventure, Most and Manatee in particular, would sound like the generic electro-goth soundtrack to a second-rate Matrix rip-off, but Valkyrie manages to imbue them with vast amounts of soul.
Life By Misadventure is very obviously an album of ideas, and at times the heavy layered soup that results is somewhat oppressive. Little wonder, then that Bee Stings are at their best when they lighten up and add some space to their sound. Life In Misadventure opener Pressure is a perfect example of this – without the waves and waves of industrial electro that can be found elsewhere on the album, the song has a chance to breath and, as a result, sounds like a particularly demented Abba song.
Best of all, though, is Centre Of The Universe. Perfectly placed where its effect will be felt most, Bee Stings have created an airy, breezy gem that's part Cornelius, part Bacharach and part musical show-stopper. It's bewildering, but it works gloriously.
Life By Misadventure by Bee Stings is an unusual treat, and one that certainly rewards repeated listening. And who knows, in two years and three studios time Bee Stings might come back with the masterpiece that they're capable of.