Work It!/Virgin, Rs 395
Rating: 4 and half
Groove Armada’s latest album Black Light is the soundtrack of our lives. Or, at any rate, the soundtrack of my life. With dark sunshine exploding from its core, it’s what people wearing frockcoats — or their equivalent in the summer heat — would call an end-of-the-century album. Put the disc on and it could be 1899, 1999 or 2099, swivelling years, stashed with all the fin-de-siecle feelings of stylised and stylish grief and arsenic-laced joy. What we have here is, courtesy the venerable English electronica-and-more duo of Andy Cato and Tom Findlay and their bevy of shimmering guest singers, a roomful of sound with a mirrorball spinning from the ceiling and sucking your soul in, sucking your soul out in one giant sonic breathing.
Groove Armada have always stayed on the up side of sunny since their 2000 humdriving album Goodbye Country, Hello Nightclub. The less-noticed 1999 album Vertigo was a hard-polished gem. But between the irony-clad latter and the unabashed grooves of the former — most notably represented in the intensely itchy beats of ‘Superstylin’ — the path to glory was marked by Groove Armada’s developing upbeat tempo and hiphop’n’jump sound. But now there is this glimmering thing. And at the heart of this dark, joyous and palpable masterwork that is a sonic Grand Canyon rolling before the listener is the track in the middle on which this album folds into origami-two, ‘I won’t kneel’. I had heard singer Saint Saviour, the only non-Ian Curtis person — man, woman or child — whose version of Joy Division’s ‘Love will tear us apart made any sense to me. In this number, she truly sounds like a siren sitting on a rock with the waves crashing. The music swirls and substitutes water as she sings, “I came for miles on a broken wheel/ I came to see whether love can heal/ But I won’t kneel, no, I won’t kneel/ Cos I can’t bend, can’t hold, can’t lend, can’t fold, can’t lose...”
Almost a lifetime ago, in the very first track, the purple brick road opens up in ‘Look me in the eyes sister’, the ‘electronics’ in this Death in Vegas-flavoured techno-R&B nugget ridden by She Keeps Bees vocalist Jessica Larrabee. ‘Just for tonight’ throws in a 80s mellow marshmallow in the kitty, while ‘Not forgotten’ break-beats its way into the wind with vocal muscles from Aussie electronic band Pnu frontman Nick Littlemore. Nick serves it up again in ‘Cards to your heart’ starting with the announcement, “While the music is coming to an end/ I fell for you and the love pretend”. The buzz is phat and crackling with the synth smelling of iodine.
A star turn comes in the appearance of Bryan Ferry, whose Roxy Music does seem to have a dedicated shrine in Black Light. He sings like an wizened heroin baron who can see into the future in Shameless. The music, hinted by the French mumble-words with which the song starts with, is Euro-cool, half-Daft Punk, half-Air, but with some sort of Edwardian cool most strongly felt by the fingers presse on the synth chord like the last frame of a snuff movie.
I could go on and on about the songs in this calm yet delirious album. But what marks — and marks out — Groove Armada’s sixth studio album is its stunning sophistication that doesn’t let go of the collar of emotions. Black Light is that one thing that I’ve always been sceptical of: the ‘concept album’, which, of course, it isn’t. But it has one overarching tale to tell through its sound: that of life. Or, as I would rather think, the gradual ebbing of it.