ALBUM REVIEW: Chromeo – Business Casual
by Marcus K. Dowling
The tandem of P-Thugg and Dave 1, the Montreal, Quebec natives known as Chromeo began their pop rise taking the simplest of elements and mashing them together for underground domination and mainstream success. The quirky voice box aided funk and synth stylings of acts like Zapp and The Gap Band alongside electro dance production formula is not shocking or unusual, but in a group as well steeped in the aural traditions of 80s funk and soul as this duo, the songs sound great, so the blatant ripping of a decades old musical concept is easily forgotten. On most recent third release Business Casual the duo strip down the formula somewhat, and in attempting to shed the hipster conceptualization from their sound and just become a solid funk pairing succeed. In continuing to solve the nagging issues that halt their development as a truly fully formed act, they have the opportunity to carry the torch carried by the likes of Morris Day and Charlie Wilson well into the 21st century for a brand new faction of sexy, party loving funk devotees.
Lead single “Night by Night” is easily the best and most complete pop song of the duo’s career. The keytar synths here make a typical love song aspire to the levels of Morris Day and The Time. In unashamedly harnessing what made the Minnesota sound by way of Giorgio Moroder and all of the requisite antecedents and processions so important, and blending in copious amounts of smooth, time tested soul, Chromeo may be formulaic, but it’s quite the excellent formula. There are obvious elements here in composition of the works of Alexander O’Neal (the giant production of a second single “Don’t Turn the Lights On” sounds eerily similar to his 1987 hit “Fake”) Laid Back (the bassline of “You Make It Rough” clearly sounds culled from “White Horse”) and of course, the ubiquitous influence, Hall and Oates. However, there are two tracks that take Chromeo’s fawning to new levels, and provide their albeit lazy, yet well executed guide to continued success.
Solange Knowles’ entire career may end up being based around the fact that in being the bastard sister of Beyonce that she’s given a pass and allowed to be weird, famous and beyond reproach. However, her solo work has proven her a talented and capable artist, and in merely singing a bar from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” on “When The Night Falls” has morphed herself from cryogenically frozen 60s go go girl to hook cooing pop debutante, which frankly is a look that can keep her relevant and popular instead of perpetually critically acclaimed.
On track “Grow Up,” Dave-1 literally grows up as a performer and finds his vocal comfort. For years, it has been a struggle for Chromeo to literally find their voice. Vocal altering studio magic is a hallmark of the group making them a pop gimmick more than serious act, but, clearly, the duo wants longevity which is going to require Dave-1 to find a solid vocal range. Throughout Chromeo’s career, Dave’s voice has always been a weakness, likely if for no other reason than likely trying to sound like a Jewish Roger Troutman, or emulate Darryl Hall or John Oates. He’s actually none of the above, and on “Grow Up,” in sounding like yes, Billy Joel, he succeeds. No, I don’t want covers of “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” or “Vienna” with voice box effects, but in his voice being pitched to match that of one of the most honest and soulful singer-songwriters of rock history, that likely wasn’t his aim at the start of his career, but time and chance happens to everyone.
In final, this is a solid album. The pop singles here show the direction the band can comfortably take for a career. Mirror top 80s electro funk tracks that were enormous hits, and infuse them with solid songwriting and perfect mixing (Phoenix’s Philipe Zdar behind the boards has Chromeo’s sound down to a science) to extend their life and take them in a slightly different, yet reverential direction. Chromeo has legs to succeed for many years to come. In slowly putting the pieces together to craft a formula that will succeed for them “night by night” for years to come, their search for longevity is refreshing and their development a continuing story to watch unfold and appreciate.