When a rock band loses most of its lineup, the result is usually a dramatic musical shift. But Broadcast isn't exactly a rock band, and its formula could always be reduced to soprano plus noise. So it doesn't much matter that only two of the Birmingham, England, group's five original members appear on "Tender Buttons," Broadcast's third full album. Lacking former guitarist Tim Felton, this set is even heavier on electronics than its predecessors, but it retains the essential contrast between Trish Keenan's cool, lilting vocals and their clattering, distorted settings.
In addition to playing down electric guitar, "Tender Buttons" adjusts the group's style in other ways. The starkly pretty "Tears in the Typing Pool" is one of Broadcast's gentlest songs ever; Keenan sings in a lower register on the incantatory title track, which suggests Patti Smith; and "America's Boy" is an uncharacteristic foray into politics, although its anti-Iraq-invasion lyrics are more impressionistic than ideological. None of Keenan and partner James Cargill's new compositions rank with the catchiest of Broadcast's earlier tunes, but they fit neatly into what is surely the band's most consistent album. In style as with personnel, "Tender Buttons" strips Broadcast's machine-age lullabies to their sweet-and-sour essence.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Saturday at the Black Cat with Gravenhurt and Tralala.