Road rules 

Bettie Serveert retakes America -- by van

"Wide Eyed Fools" is the virtual embodiment of today's Bettie Serveert. The tune in question is a voluptuous slab of lipstick-smeared self-realization that opens the Dutch outfit's latest CD, Log 22. "Freaks liked us ... /We're too soft and seedy with only half a clue," sings frontwoman Carol van Dyk.

She said it -- not us. And yet you'd think a band of Bettie Serveert's relative stature and maturity (13 years and counting) would have to be clueless to pile into a van for a non-stop month of coast-to-coast club dates. "Every day we spend about eight hours [driving]," says guitarist Peter Visser, who, along with van Dyk and bassist Herman Bunskoeke, comprise Bettie Serveert's active founding three. "This is kind of cool and romantic, because we get to know America a lot. But it makes you tired as well."

Visser's matter-of-fact affability is refreshing -- and it might even have something to do with Bettie Serveert's durability. Misdirected angst, after all, has been the undoing of many a great band -- and Bettie Serveert (named after Dutch pro-tennis darling Bettie Stove) was once pretty damn great. Log 22, while merely very good overall, conjures that greatness more than once. Parts of it sound an awful lot like 1992 -- especially the vampy "Smack" and the eight-minutes-plus "White Dogs," which begins with a whisper before segueing abruptly into a tightly wound extended jam in the spirit of the Velvet Underground and Altamont-era Stones.

Bettie Serveert defined all that was loud, proud and pretty about indie rock on 1992's Palomine. Eleven years later, the group's Matador debut remains a substantial three-way marriage of form, fury and femininity -- all fractured finesse wrapped in a rainbow-colored barbwire bow. It was so good, in fact, that it would take the band eight years -- and four albums -- to produce anything remotely in the same league: 2000's Private Suit. After touring ended for that album, van Dyk decided she needed a break -- one that resulted in two moody trad-country albums with Belgian pal Pascal Deweze as Chitlin Fooks.

But it wasn't long before Bettie Serveert fell together again.

"The plan was for a year [break], but then Carol saw this 16-track recording machine I bought," Visser recalls. "So we started just playing for fun, and the songs came out really quickly."

The Canadian-born van Dyk has a way of sounding like everyone and no one -- and she's in fine form on Log 22. A compelling vocalist who achieves subtle shifts in tone, timber and personality as the song dictates, she can croon with the self-assured grace of a latter-day Chrissie Hynde ("De Diva"), out Betty-Boop pop-punk princess Gwen Stefani ("The Ocean, My Floor") or wax intimate and confessional a la Aimee Mann ("Cut 'n Dried") -- all without losing sight of herself along the way.

With a ceaseless and diverse supply of savory licks at his disposal, Visser is a worthy foil for van Dyk. And his tendency toward inspired derivation is as shameless as hers. As the two of them recorded Log 22's basic tracks in Visser's living room, they even went so far as to name drop.

"The game I played with myself -- and with Carol as well --was to listen to what we had recorded, with only the guitar and Carol's vocals, then see what it reminded me of," he says. "For instance, 'De Diva' -- that vocal line reminded me a little bit of that pompous Muse band from England. Therefore I thought, 'Let's bring in the grand piano and the orchestra.' 'Log 22' reminded me a little of the old Roxy Music, so I came up with the Brian Eno synths."

However contrived their efforts, all were directed toward a noble end -- to make Log 22 as unconventional as possible.

"Music is about expressing your freedom and all that stuff," says Visser. "We thought, 'Anything goes.'"

hobart.rowland@creativeloafing.com

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