Head Over Heels (Warner)
How do you find the sweet spot? How do you stay in the sweet spot when maybe you aren’t sure what you did that time to land there? Can anyone really explain why that sweet spot - missed narrowly maybe beforehand; missed just as narrowly afterwards - was so sweet?
Canadian duo, Chromeo – David Mackovitch and Patrick Gemayel or, as they have called themselves, “the only successful Arab/Jewish partnership since the dawn of human culture”- have been making music together for more than 20 years and as Chromeo since 2002.
Their style was set from the first Chromeo album: a mix of smooth soul, disco, cheesy pop, and humour. And they worked those angles through two more albums of reasonable success and clubland respect, never quite making brilliant fare but regularly getting to the nothing-to-sneeze-at rating of enjoyable.
Then they hit the sweet spot, 2014’s White Women, an album which did everything they been doing before but did it with more sharpness, with more hooks, with more jokes that landed with grace rather than a solid thump, with more memorable tunes, and with a level of consistency that hitherto had escaped them.
Furthermore, on White Women you could laugh several times at the same gag (because they really only have a couple of gags) as the songs held up to sustained listening. Whenever those songs come up on one of my playlists, or when I pull the record out, the thrills are still there. A very sweet spot indeed.
Head Over Heels is not in that spot.
It’s in the ballpark, it’s familiar. Lord knows it mines from Hall & Oates to New Edition, from Studio 54 to Madonna, from Patrice Rushen to pre-Bad Michael Jackson. You can put some glide in your stride when listening to Right Back Home To You and turn that into a strut when edging into a room left shoulder-and-left-hip first with Slumming It. You can imagine Daft Punk when throwing your arms out to Must’ve Been (which features DRAM), and all but hear Justin Timberlake hanging with his tolerant hip hop buddies when spinning on the spot to Don’t Sleep (which is bulked out by French Montana and Stefflon Don).
But as Maxwell Smart might tell them, Chromeo “missed it by that much”. The question is how? Or maybe, why? After all it’s not terrible. I’ve danced to Count Me Out and smiled at the cheese/groove ratio in Bedroom Calling pt 2, and Bad Decision has chutzpah to balance its naffness.
However, I’ve not retained more than a lingering sense of any songs when the music stops and I’ve certainly not found much to laugh at in the lyrics which have slipped back into tacky, and sometimes rank, territory where the line between self-parody and cheap misogyny is hard to discern.
The best I can manage is that retreading a very familiar style is the easy step for clever kids if you have studied the sounds, the moves and the changes as closely as Mackovitch and Gemayel have. But you need some traction, some reason to be, beyond cleverness, and these songs - not particularly special, nor particularly memorable - don’t have it.
The sweet spot is gone.