Saturday, 5 December 2009
Simian Mobile Disco - Temporary Pleasure
released 17 August 2009 on Polydor
If aliens were to land on our planet tomorrow, they’d probably waste no time asking the big questions. Why do we have wars? Why are some people obese while others die of starvation? Why - when he’s so unnecessarily rude to everyone - doesn’t someone punch Gordon Ramsey really hard in the face? However, this is a music review and since your humble narrator is fond of a whimsical flight of fancy, we can add another question to that list: what’s going on with the naming of music genres?
Pop music no longer means music that’s popular, R n’ B has long been devoid of anything approaching either rhythm or blues and what exactly is alternative music the alternative to? At least you always knew where you were with dance. The raison d’être of dance music was, rather unsurprisingly, to make you dance, and to hell with anything more noble or meaningful. However, the advent of superstar DJs and ubiquitous chill-out compilations has heralded a world where dance has branched out into countless variations, not all of which are fit for dancing.
Simian Mobile Disco could well fit into such a category. Along with groups such as Justice, they belong to a select group of more cerebral dance acts, which place as much importance on the detail as the beat or groove. They’re a combination of old-school dance and Kid A, and SMD’s commitment to the finer points was summed up by the title of their début album, Attack Decay Sustain Release.
The problem with such an approach is that there’s a danger of it all coming over as “art for art’s sake” and hard to love. SMD employ a wealth of additional vocalists for Temporary Pleasure, and on tracks such as the Gruff Rhys-led opener, Cream Dream, seem too in thrall to their guests to really let loose. Every click, tone and beat of Cream Dream is perfectly formed, the vocals are great but it wouldn’t hurt to have a bit more melody and, you know, something to dance to, maybe?
It’s a theme which crops up throughout the album. Temporary Pleasure suffers from relying too heavily on the singers to carry the song whilst SMD do all the clever, science stuff in the background. It’s only on vocal-less tracks such as the fantastic 10000 Horses Can’t Be Wrong that they show their true class. It’s a modern club classic with an irresistible riff (strangely reminiscent of Hot Butter’s Popcorn) and a perfect build-up, leading to an thrilling but agonising pause and the euphoria when the hook comes back in. The trick is repeated on the other stand-out track (and only other song without vocals), Ambulance, which has nightmarish, squonky synths in abundance.
As we go into the new decade, appearance and reputation are all important and let’s be honest, SMD are cool. They’re cooler than you and they’re a damn sight cooler than me, so on occasion, Temporary Pleasure can be hard to warm to. This is music for über-trendy LA clubs, where impossibly glamorous women bump and grind in gold, lamé micro-hotpants. Alas, anyone who has ever spent time in a town centre of the UK knows that a night out equals binge drinking, shrieking regional accents, a river of E number-filled, dangerously alcoholic vomit and a fat girl crying in a corner somewhere. It’s hard to see where Temporary Pleasure will fit in and who it’s for; the relentlessly catchy single, Audacity of Huge, namedrops like there’s no tomorrow (Mama Cass, Peter Tosh, Joey Ramone are all mentioned) - what will that mean to an inebriated teenager in a dingy club in Gateshead?
Luckily, there’s enough to keep you more than interested, if not jumping to your feet to shake yo’ thang. Miraculously, Beth Ditto doesn’t ruin the sultry Cruel Intentions, and shows that, oddly, she may be more suited to the role of ice-cool diva as opposed to her day job of screaming at all and sundry as if they’re personally standing in her way of control. Bad Blood sounds exactly like Hot Chip (no surprise, as it features Alexis Taylor) and Young Fathers provide a welcome change of pace on the hard-hitting Turn Up the Dial. Yet still, it’s all about image, and the lyrics to the whole of Temporary Pleasure are little more than repetitive, empty platitudes.
Maybe all this is the whole point, after all, you can over-think things. Turn the volume up, have a few drinks and this album would probably sound amazing. As it is, attempting to detail this record by scribbling down poorly-formed half-phrases in a notebook and expanding them out in a Word document seems out of step. Frank Zappa famously said that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” and that may hold at least partly true for Temporary Pleasure. It’s not meant to be written about, it’s meant to be enjoyed. It’s trashy yet too self-conscious for its own good, it’s lovingly crafted yet ultimately hollow, it’s dance music which veers from so catchy you can’t help yourself to chin-stroking music to nod at and appreciate. To quote Morrissey, “it says nothing to me about my life”, but it could mean everything to you.