n a recent interview, Dave One, the mustachioed half of Quebecois electro-funk duo Chromeo, defended his group’s glorification of 80’s boogaloo by stating that it’s “persistence that sets you apart from being a gimmick.” If that’s the case, then Fancy Footwork, arriving three years after their debut She’s in Control, is the work of artisans rather than kitschy revivalists. Where many of the current sub-genres of dance tend to compensate a lack of songwriting with recycled samples, ephemeral flashes, and glittered fashion from the era, Chromeo painstakingly re-create those vibrant sounds and plastic beats—all the vital elements of '80s pop radio re-invented and assembled into celebratory homage.
On the surface, Fancy Footwork is playfully sleazy and full of cheap thrills. The mannequin legs on the cover that prop up their synthesizers, their chosen stage-names (the other half is Pee Thug), cheeky song titles (“Tenderoni,” “Momma’s Boy”), even cheekier lyrics (“what you need is an older guy, with a little bit of love experience/right clothes and right appearance”), all these things tell you that this duo is obviously having a laugh, but Chromeo’s forgotten heroes were equally outrageous, if not more so. Roger Troutman snaked vocoder tubes from his mouth, George Clinton landed in a mothership, Michael Jackson used video as pop-art, even James Brown had a fire blanket. And just like those pop titans never let escapism obscure their consummate musicianship, there’s a similar sincerity that permeates Fancy Footwork. Before long (the exact moment falls on “Bonafide Lovin’” wherein Dave One becomes a French-Canadian Ray Parker Jr.) earnest replaces persistence. These guys live and breathe what they play.
She’s in Control suffered from a lack of cohesion, a tendency to extend past the duo’s means. Here those maxi-single grooves are simultaneously fully realized and condensed into bite-sized nuggets. They’ve found a way to pit the brutal street funk of Rick James against the bubblegum synths of New Edition on “Outta Sight.” Disco-balled elegance matches handclaps and breathy sax on “100%.” And as a comfortable diversion, a forlorn Supertramp melody segues into the cheese-filled metal guitars of teen celluloid in the comic tragedy “Momma’s Boy.” Synths dominate; crisp, wobbly, slick, and rubbery—all shades are represented.
Few would admit to ever wanting to emulate, or even adore, Nu Shooz “I Can’t Wait” or the Jet’s “Rocket 2 You,” but millions could conjure up memories—at the roller rink, breakdancing on concrete, jumping from the high dive, shopping at K-Mart—when those songs had a purpose. Chromeo’s questionable genius lies in the breadth of their fetish for those times. It’s one thing to pledge allegiance to Devo (a non-issue in acquiring the hipster membership card), it’s quite another to laud the production work of Jellybean Benitez and Full Force. Chromeo are those children of the '80s that never took wind of alternative and grunge, and instead took a new jack swing late into the '90s and beyond. Somewhere there’s a pink Ferrari in sockless leather loafers smiling widely.
Reviewed by: Kevin J. Elliott
Reviewed on: 2007-07-24