Chromeo Business Casual

[Atlantic; 2010]

Styles: blue-eyed soul, funk
Others: Zapp, Phoenix, Daft Punk, Hall & Oates, Solange Knowles

Boy, this is an album that would be sooooo easy to hate. Chromeo is, after all, fundamentally a joke band, with a fat Arab dude and a skinny, nerdy Jew winking and nodding their way through shiny 80s synth-pop/funk, à la a slightly hopped-up Hall & Oates. The band’s lyrics are simpleminded and borderline misogynistic, with lead singer Dave 1 (David Macklovitch) running a long line of bullshit about how difficult the ladies are and how much they really want him, if only they’d admit it. Musically, there are no — and I mean no — surprises here. Nearly every track on Business Casual features keyboardist P-Thugg (Patrick Geyamel) on talkbox, usually singing the robo-hook. The clean disco drums and handclap-driven beats are uniform throughout, in spirit if not in detail. And we are regularly treated to bridges filled out with soaring, retro-psychedelic keyboard solos, an odd whiff of Hawkwind in the middle of all that Saturday Night Fever.

So, it’s formulaic, it’s ‘retro’ in a really kitschy way, and Business Casual sounds pretty much the same as their 2004 debut, Fancy Footwork; and still, Chromeo are fucking great. They’re one of those bands, like The Darkness or Electric Six, who stick so closely to their formula, and execute it with so much precision and obvious love, that it turns what might have been winking kitsch into a full-bore homage. To fault them for being derivative misses the point entirely; these tracks may be essentially interchangeable, but the production is so tight and the songwriting so spot-on that any one of them would blow up a dancefloor. I actually find myself looking forward to P-Thugg’s imitation of Roger Troutman on every song.

If there’s one element that at least teases at going beyond even high-level homage, it’s Dave 1’s twist on the blue-eyed-soul persona. At first blush, songs titles like “When the Night Falls,” “Hot Mess,” and “The Right Type” might sound like the work of someone who’d been hit in the head with a brick, but Macklovitch’s lyrical subtlety gives new life to old, old clichés. Mostly, he weaves in tiny glimmers of intellect: “I’m feeling slightly ill at ease/ About your sensibilities,” or “You probably think I’m a fast-talking romantic with highfalutin ways/ But it’s all about the impression you made the first time I met you, it stayed with me for days.” Also, while it would be a stretch to call anything Chromeo does subversive, it’s worth listening to the lyrics of “Don’t Turn the Lights On,” which I think is about masturbating to the memory of a dead ex-crush. In every case, Dave 1 sells his lines with subtlety rather than smarm, never failing to fully occupy the role of fast-talking but sincere smoothy. Chromeo is the musical version of boat shoes and a white suit: what might seem like a goof gets turned into the real thing by unflinching confidence.

Links: Chromeo - Atlantic

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