THEM EUROPEAN MUSICIANS sure are more loyal than their Anglo-American counterparts. Take versatile Bettie Serveert frontwoman Carol Van Dijk, or, as she prefers to sign her checks these days, Van Dyk. Despite the fact that 1997's brilliant Dust Bunnies was released to yawns from the same fickle indie-pop boys who'd fawned over a callower Carol on Palomine three years earlier, she stalwartly soldiers on with her Dutch compatriots. A less comradely chick might have relocated to London, where, with the right connections, her deadpan purr could have brought some truly dismal trip-hop records to international acclaim. Or she could have lent her girlish lilt to one of those ever-bankable variants on the Sundays and made herself sixpence more the richer.
Instead, Van Dyk opted for a relatively minor phonetic simplification of her surname, and, following no clear commercial impetus, invited PJ Harvey helpmeet John Parrish into the studio. Parrish imposes strict sonic discipline on the band, sorting stray arpeggios and riffs into their proper cubbyholes and tinkling a few decorous keyboards himself. Peter Visser's once proudly progressive guitars have been chastened--no wastrel rave-ups generating jangling white heat, no rippling triplets reeling into flights of wank. Yoked closely to Van Dyk's concise melodies, Visser has never sounded better, his fluid chimes rising upward and then dropping back onto the pillow of bass that Herman Bunskoeke fluffs underneath. The somber mood maintained throughout suggests that Parrish is steadfastly convinced that Van Dyk wants to be Polly Harvey when she grows up. The closest the disc comes to a joke is "My Fallen Words," keyed to a jauntily tossed off "Anything can happen to me" that marks a woman who's keeping her options open.
But beginning with her opening line ("I took a Tylenol and an hour's drive/And somehow found a reason why I'm still alive"), Van Dyk remains expert at locating shades of vocal nuance within a monochromatic setting. Who says women can't get sexier as they get older? I mean, Van Dyk must be, what, at least 30 by now, right?