In the spirit of full disclosure, I should first divulge that I know the owner of Ghostly International, the label that released this Disco Nouveau compilation. We went to college together, and would sometimes discuss Olympic art and EPCOT, two topics that please me greatly. And I should mention, he sent me this CD for free (plus a sticker!). But let it be known that the $5,000 bribe I requested was not sent. Dammit.
In the spirit of further full disclosure, I should divulge that I know next to nothing about electronic music. No Mark Richard-San am I. I don’t know techno from Tecmo. The expansive terminology and rapid genre proliferation frighten me and give me indigestion. And generally, IDM makes me feel, well… very un-I.
Okay, so for the three or four people reading who still respect my opinion on this album, I think Disco Nouveau is a pretty neat compilation—and with excellent packaging! I came to this conclusion by holding it up to my highly scientific three-question yes/no electronic music evaluation:
1. Does it make me feel cooler when I play it in my car? A. Yes.
2. Does it conjure up mental pictures of robots and/or people in sequined outfits dancing wildly in some kind of retro-futuristic club? A. Yes.
3. Does it make me feel sexy? A. Well, not really. But as Mr. Loaf once said, two out of three ain’t bad.
The disco nouveau sound, according to the extensive liner notes, was a late-70s-to-early-80s movement bridging the gap between the heyday of Studio 54 and the rise of rave culture. To me, it sounds like the electronic music equivalent of old-school rap—poppy and accessible, with somewhat primitive beats over which a David Gahan or Simon LeBon vocal would not sound out of place. This compilation features fourteen international and presumably well known (even I’ve heard of some of ‘em) artists composing original tributes to this glitzy era.
What this means is no less than three tracks starting off with beats reminiscent of “Billie Jean,” a definite plus in my book. Given the movement’s infiltration into a lot of early-80s pop music, I’m obliged to go for tracks that most recall my childhood MTV habit, like Adult’s classic combo of synths and handclaps and monotone female vocals on “Nite Life.” My inner child is further stroked by electro-kitsch act DMX Krew teaming up with vocalist Tracy for “Make Me,” a collaboration that lands somewhere between ABBA and Madonna’s early NYC club days.
Other tracks downplay vocals and are slightly more sonically complex, though never to the point of losing danceability. With its eerie background noises, funky guitar, and rubbery bassline, Mat-101’s “Haunted House” could be the theme song for some blaxploitation/disco horror flick. Charles Manier’s “Change You” employs live drums and percussion in either a polyrhythmic Afrobeat style, lending the track a propulsive edge over its compatriots.
The downside of the compilation’s theme is that all fourteen artists seem to be referencing the same inspirations—primarily the light-up floor anthems of Giorgio Moroder. This makes for a somewhat homogenous affair, and by the end of the disc’s 75 minutes, it becomes a challenge to figure out when one track ended and the next began. Furthermore, any form of disco doesn’t exactly lend itself to emotional range, and Disco Nouveau is no exception. Even Solvent’s “My Radio,” the lyrics of which mourn the death of a favorite 80s radio station, has all the reflective somberness of a Bee Gees concert.
But I’m no dummy—I realize this is largely a compilation for hip cocktail soirees and the Friday night drive to the club—not for chin-stroking and reading Tolstoy. It’s not blowing my mind or expanding my musical horizons much, but it is right up my alley as far as electronic music’s concerned, especially considering I’m roughly fifteen years behind the curve. At the very least, it’ll give my well-worn copy of Rio the occasional break.