Review: Ladytron – Time’s Arrow

Artwork for Ladytron's 2023 album Time's Arrow

Timeless work from Ladytron.

It started with old words being repeated by young people.

Sometime in the middle of 2021 those who live on planet TikTok began to notice a new, unprompted trend emerging, with its predominantly Gen Z audience clip syncing: ‘They only want you when you’re seventeen/When you’re twenty-one, you’re no fun.’

The words were from Seventeen, a song by electronic pop veterans Ladytron, but the odd thing about it was that it had been released originally in 2002 as part of their debut album Light & Magic.

Back then, before social media was a thing, it had been commentary on how youth is essentially transient and disposable in the eyes of the industries which exploit it. Clearly, it seemed two decades later those that remained in its grip felt much the same.

The track’s latter-day exposure was encouragement enough to make sure Time’s Arrow – the band’s seventh album and the first since 2019’s eponymous sixth – was completed.

Their guiding principles remained the same: despite now being scattered around the globe, Ladytron had always been relied upon to sit on the edge of a glamorous fiction, a gleaming dystopia wrapped in a velvet glove. Asked if they had now left those visions behind, Ladytron’s singer Helen Marnie merely explained: ‘We are already there.’

Where is there? The illusory works here keep secrets like that – opener City Of Angels deals with the capital of reinvention, where ‘the collapse of cultural memory’ it approaches is just what happens between dusk and dawn.

As with companion song Faces, there’s both a fragility and a timelessness at work. Although this is supposedly the music of the future, both could’ve been recorded at any point in the last 40-plus years.

America’s west coast seems to play the role of spiritual hub at least, with the Beach House-esque shoegaze of California blinking with seductive gloss, its ever dissolving reality a wall against the harshness of other imagined lives elsewhere, captured in, ‘Bad words, bad thoughts/Disappear with the rain/New York you’re fine/But New York couldn’t make us happy’.

The album’s high concept revolves around the paradox that life, ‘must be lived forwards but can only be experienced in retrospect’, a place where residual memory can never inform the moment.

The titular closer teases, exploring both the absurdity and inevitability of the idea played out over a cinematic tableau with Mira Aroyo cosmically piping: ‘Time’s arrow glides through your heart.’

As with much of the band’s work, that time lacks a specificity, with the melodrama of Misery Remember Me and Sargasso Sea’s replicant disco both treading familiarly utilized grooves.

Meanwhile, perhaps sending a message, perhaps not, We Never Went Away edges towards bubblegum pop rather than showing defiance, as if emotions were somehow a waste of creative energy.

Ladytron found themselves, like other established artists have been recently, uprooted from one set of cultural moorings, a tiny fragment of their previous career being orphaned and providing a second, weirder cameo of fame.

It demonstrated that some truths remain universal, but Time’s Arrow is not for the millions of young faces seeking and rejecting transient disposability.

Instead, wisely it continues to soundtrack another kind of paradigm which belongs to everyone, a musical hall of mirrors that reflects back a mirage of our own choosing.

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