With Beta Love, New York indie-rock band Ra Ra Riot joins the ranks of crafty young pop acts indulging an affection for the synth-washed ’80s. On Ra Ra Riot’s first two albums—2008’s The Rhumb Line and 2010’s The Orchard—the band combined peppy rhythms with dreamy strings and frontman Wes Miles’ high croon to produce something light and likeable, if not exactly cutting-edge. On Beta Love, the guitars and violins are overridden by keyboards, while Miles’ already-strong voice picks up some studio enhancements, making it sound like another electronic element in the mix. The album is big, busy, and mainstream-friendly—ideal for a marketplace dominated by the likes of Fun., Gotye, Passion Pit, and Carly Rae Jepsen.
It’s also all but devoid of any personality. Ra Ra Riot has never been a band with a strong sense of itself (at least not in comparison with Vampire Weekend, a band Ra Ra Riot was compared to often in its early years), but the merging of the strings with Miles’ vocals did create a warm, analog, appealingly human feel. But from the opening minutes of Beta Love—with the chirpily repetitive statement-of-purpose “Dance With Me”—Ra Ra Riot redefines itself as a robotic generator of potential hits. The band hasn’t lost any of its pop sense; Beta Love’s individual songs are, for the most part, properly catchy and toe-tapping. But aside from a few highlights like the infectiously cheery “For Once” and “Angel, Please,” the album sounds dispiritingly processed. It tries so hard to please that it becomes perversely repellant.