If you want a good, short description about the sound of the British techno duo Groove Armada’s latest album, Vertigo (Jive Electro), look on the back of the album. Track six is called Serve Chilled, and that’s a pretty accurate summation of the sound of the album – chilled.
While Britain may have been the home of the electronica revolution in the 1990s, artists from other countries, such as France, began to make inroads late in the decade. The sound coming out of France, by groups such as Air and Daft Punk, had a more laid-back atmospheric sound to them mixed with a disco flair.
On Vertigo, Groove Armada sounds like it is trying to cram the cool laid-back French sound with the British dance/rave sound. The two styles just become a muddled, bland mix that stretches out more than 12 songs.
The album opens promisingly with Chicago. It’s a great song to put on as background noise while studying. Synth-effects warble in and out of the speakers, backed by steady, hypnotic beats. Other effects, such as a funk-guitar riff, help to keep the song from putting you completely to sleep. However, clocking in at more than seven minutes, the song is way too long. At about the fifth minute you keep waiting for it to end because the building blocks that made up the song just keep repeating and repeating – and repeating. Eventually, you just skip ahead to the next song.
As far as the album’s attempts to create an ambient sound go, Chicago is one of the better tracks. Most of the other tracks just go in one ear and out the other. Dusk You & Me sounds like an Air knock-off with its echoed trumpet sounds and slow jazzy beats. Serve Chilled is the epitome of the complaint that techno is a soulless cold style. At The River gets points for at least being different. The song sounds a bit like an old R&B hit.
The other half of Vertigo is a weak attempt to make dance music. Whatever,Whenever is a bland hip-hop track that sounds like Will Smith rapping over a Dr. Dre B-side beat. If Everyone Looked The Same starts out with a cool jolt of energy – snare drums snap and a low, funky synth-bass line. But whatever sample Groove Armada found to make the title chorus should be buried deep.
The poor choice of samples ruins Pre 63 and I See You Baby. Pre 63 had the ability to be one of the best tracks on the album. It opens with a mournful trumpet, playing slowly. This sound is built on by the addition of a pounding beat and a jazzy flute. But then, not knowing when to quit, samples of people chattering are thrown into the mix. The cool, laid-back world Groove Armada finally created is quickly destroyed.
I See You Baby gets the vote for one of the worst dance songs ever. As far as the music goes, it’s all right with its steady bass and funky beats. But then, the sample of a woman, who sounds like a woman who went to a club plastered saying I see you baby, shaking that ass, sounds like nails on a chalkboard.
The only point where Vertigo gets some life and energy comes at the very end. It’s Fatboy Slim’s remix of I See You Baby. While the god-awful sample is still there, Slim puts his big-beat skills in to full effect and gives the song a badly needed kick of energy. Unfortunately, it comes at the end.
On one track, a bland house song called In My Bones, a sample goes House music, it’s in my bones. After listening to Vertigo, you only wish Groove Armada had it in its heart too.