It may well be some kind of bitter irony, or if we want to go glass half-full, a compensatory gift, that amid the most locked down, closed in, stay home, touch no one period in any of our lives, some, maybe even most of the best pop of the past few years has come under the rubric of disco.
Last year alone had Jessie Ware, Kylie Minogue, Roisin Murphy and, at the more loved up/quieter mood/touched with sadness end of the nightclub, The Avalanches. Not to mention Dua Lipa, elements of The Weeknd, Disclosure, and anything the always stellar Robyn touches.
All of them figured in end of year polls, all of them carried more emotional weight and deep satisfaction than the supposed flighty genre is meant to carry. And Englishman SG (Samuel) Lewis – who has some Dua Lipa remix connections in his past and a guest spot from Robyn on this, his debut - is working his way into that company.
He’s not wholly there, yet: the suggestions in the pre-release PR of euphoric club action fall a little shot in reality as there’s a sense of the studied move about some of this that pulls you back from full release. But Times is a pleasure to play and a pleasure to dance to, and could comfortably have extended its 40-minute running time.
Interestingly, the centrepiece of the album – in the sense that it works as a pivot point halfway through Times, and a clue to what Lewis still needs to nail, rather than being the best of the 10 tracks – is the least dance-focused moment.
Heartbreak On The Dancefloor, whose intentions are well signposted in a “this is deep sentiment” manner, builds up from a gently ricocheting drum pattern and a chiming synth that is as in love with the late ‘70s as The Weeknd is. And vocalist, Frances aims for languid-meets-lost over the top, to drive the point home.
She doesn’t quite manage it, sounding more impersonal, maybe even a bit bored, rather than hurt, and Lewis, similarly doesn’t quite get that tricky balance between gliding and pulsing you need for the late night, home-is-nearing feel.
The truth obvious here is that getting emotions right takes more than working the angles or, as in the cruising-with-a-feeling Impact (with Robyn and Channel Tres exchanging reaching out chorus and close-to-the-chest chorus) having the message carried by singular vocalists.
However, you can see the road available to Lewis as experience more often matches intent. And that’s a positive, because he’s already getting regular successes with the fluid, upward facing songs.
Songs such as Feed The Fire, which has Lucky Daye on vocals, and leans even more into Chic (for anyone who grew up learning to dance by following Bernard Edward’s basslines) than the album’s actual Nile Rogers collaboration, One More. Or the Rhye-assisted title track, which pairs Miami strings and New York guitar with House backing vocals and pared-back keys for a ‘70s/’80s melange.
Or best of all, Back To Earth and Chemicals, both of which have Lewis taking the vocals himself, and make you yearn for when we can dance with other people again.
Chemicals possibly too obviously channels Daft Punk and The Neptunes for some emotionally vague, yet easy to fall into movement, but arguing against it would be just so you could get on a grump: accept it, it’s fun. Meanwhile, Back To Earth lifts itself from an already compulsive near-strut with a ‘90s Brit soul melody that does just enough to make you notice it above the body you’re already moving, though really all that matters is that that groove is pure pleasure.
Good pop, better disco, brighter future.