Who are Ladytron? Perennial underdogs constantly plagued by label problems. Relics from the flash-in-a-pan of electroclash. Moody neo-Nazis with some kind of eastern bloc agenda. If you read through the past 10 years of press for the Liverpool formed but internationally minded electro-pop band one of these aforementioned clichés will be there, if not all three. Ladytron have matured with every album from 604 and its Kraftwerk pastiche, to Light and Magic which allowed room for pathos and glacial synths. Witching Hour proved their shoegaze guitar synthing masterpiece and Velocifero perfected their knack for a catchy chorus and slick production. Ladytron have become a formidable live band, to begin with they were a joke and had no dynamics whatsoever but when they introduced a bassist and a drummer the depth of their sound, ever present on record, was birthed in the live arena. This is never more apparent than on Destroy Everything You Touch, live it has the power to sandblast your face and as the opener to this compilation sets the standard high and hard to match.
Or does it? The immediacy of their best known song doesn’t really do justice to the subtle beauty of so much of their music. Helen Marnie’s fragile but commanding voice lisps through many tracks that make you shiver inside, specifically the sparse and metronomic Soft Power and the muscular shimmer of Ghosts. Neither does Destroy represent the glitchy, more tech heavy side of Ladytron’s sound like the jerky and abrasive Fighting in Built Up Areas or the public announcement pomp of True Mathematics.
Where singles are concerned Ladytron have almost had hit after hit, almost. The slightly jarring and unnerving sensibilities behind the simplistic lyrics and nagging tunes haven’t been earworms for the masses, but the discerning listener gets more than just a pop moment or two. The sinister nursery rhyme of Seventeen, the fizz-bag-pop of Sugar, the relentless mocking of Runaway and the lonely disco of Playgirl could all have been number ones in an alternate universe. I’m happy living in this one where a band can release a best of compilation and leave off singles in favour of album tracks, spend eons making syths sound like guitars and remain virtually anonymous while making vital, beautiful and immediate music that emulates the future while smiling at the past.