Originally published on So So Gay on 25 May 2015.
In light of the extreme homophobia now peddled by their megalomaniacal leader, it seems incongruous that Russia has been responsible for one of the most internationally successful homosexual acts in pop – even if their lesbian-lovin’ was all a cynical, money making charade. For pop fans who possess only a cursory interest in the sapphic couple of Lena Katina and Julia Volkova – better known as t.A.T.u – they may not even be aware they released anything beyond their debut effort. However, during their time on the charts – before an acrimonious split in 2011 – they released six studio albums (three in Russian and three in English), with each subsequent release arguably being superior to the one before, culminating in their most recent English-language studio album, Waste Management.
First appearing in their mother tongue as Весёлые Улыбки (or Happy Smiles for those not fluent in Russian) in 2008, it got an English reissue a year later as the aforementioned Waste Management, which included entirely new artwork that featured the girls looking like survivors from an apocalyptic event. While it may have had a fairly grim title and artistic visual, its intention was to mirror sarcastic comments about the state of the Russian music industry – in a similar way that Happy Smiles did. Upon release, Waste Management was quite rightly hailed by many critics as Lena and Julia’s best album to date, though it sadly failed to have much commercial success beyond its home turf.
With grungier guitars, crunching synths and crisp percussion, the album possessed a darker more industrial hue than their first two efforts (2002’s 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane and 2005’s Dangerous and Moving). However, with tracks like ‘You and I’, it continued to tap into the existing t.A.T.u. mythology with further ‘us against the world’ type lyrics. Three singles were released from the album, ending with the purring synths of ‘Sparks’ that contrast perfectly against Julia’s husky vocal, though the album contained a plethora of single-ready songs. From the creepy stalker vibe of ‘Fly On the Wall’ to the dreamy and melancholic beauty of ‘Don’t Regret’ where Lena’s angelic voice carries the song, t.A.T.u. have never sounded better.
With an album so well produced from start to finish, it’s difficult to pinpoint precise highlights, but perhaps its finest moments are in the closing set of remixes that revisit ‘White Robe’, ‘Running Blind’ and ‘Don’t Regret’. Each remix successfully re-imagines an already great track – and not just in a generic dance remix fashion; it’s like three entirely new and distinct tracks with perhaps the pinnacle being the Fly Dream remix of ‘White Robe’, which conjures up a wonderful soundscape. Alongside the standard version of the album, a continuous mix of Waste Management called the Transcendent Version was released, which further underlined the sonic cohesion of the album.
While t.A.T.u. may have sounded on top their game, behind the scenes was a different matter. Ever the potential problem with manufactured music acts, the girls’ relationship unfortunately soured in later years, reaching a particularly low point when Julia criticised Lena’s subsequent solo output and even, quite unbelievably, made homophobic remarks – although Lena was quick to defend the LGBT community and distance herself from Julia’s comments. Despite these recent events, online petitioning exists from fans in the hopes of getting the pair to reunite for the sake of making more excellent music, exemplified by this particular album. Though to use a lyric from the album’s second single ‘White Robe’, with the apparently troublesome Julia in the mix, any potential reunion may mean they will merely be ‘back together, just for splitting’. However, if the worst happens and the Slavic duo fail to make up and produce another album at some point in the future, at least the t.A.T.u. legacy will end on a high with Waste Management.