A New York art-school quartet led by two unrelated Connecticut natives with the same surname, Book of Love introduced themselves with a then-innovative debut that cleverly synthesized catchy electro-pop minimalism and dance-driven rhythmatics. Released on the I Square imprint of their club-savvy producer, Ivan Ivan, Book of Love gets its atmosphere from Susan Ottaviano’s breathy, almost spoken vocals, which neatly offset the simple, spacious arrangements. (Special note to aficionados of esoteric cover versions: Book of Love tackles Liliput’s “Diematrosen.”)
From such fringey beginnings, Book of Love made the mistake of abandoning stylish economy and reaching for mainstream success on Lullaby. The imaginative group’s knowing junk-culture side surfaces on a driving club interpretation of “Tubular Bells,” but Susan O’s sex-kitten singing, Ted Ottaviano’s dumb lyrics and the routine sound of hyperactive sequencers get to be a drag.
The all-keyboards-and-vocals quartet (with a few guest guitarists) found its place again on Candy Carol, a toned-down and frequently enticing appliqué of flower-power style and lush pop harmonies. The synth arrangements run from trite (“Butterfly”) to clever (the title track makes cute use of the melody pre-programmed on a 30-dollar Casio synthesizer). So do the lyrics: “Quiver” is simple and dumb, while “Flower Parade” presents an a cappella list of floral species, and “Orange Flip” is a kicky little ode to lipstick colors.
For much of Lovebubble, Ted Ottaviano’s production keeps Book of Love current by relegating dance beats to a semi-ambient role; the band focuses on breezy harmonies and seductive audio collages as rhythms percolate gently underneath songs like “Sunday A.M.” (shades of early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) and the Madonna-like (in sound, not attitude) good-riddance number, “Happily Ever After.” In their strong melodic spines, firm rock beats and layers of harmony vocal frosting, “Hunny Hunny,” “Flower in My Hand” and the delightfully flip “Tambourine” suggest an electronic ABBA for a post-ABBA world. Its stylistic diversity ensured by the consciously retro “Boy Pop,” two ambient-house “Chatterbox” raps and a cover of Osibisa’s “Woyaya,” sung by Ted Ottaviano to the accompaniment of crowd noise, Lovebubble is an airy, relaxing charmer. The cover of David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision,” however, can’t decide if it’s reverent or mocking, and jags out like a bad note here.
The posthumous compilation samples all four albums, adding a bonus track (“It’s in Your Eyes”), a remake (“Sunny Day”) and a handful of remixes.