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Chromeo - She's in Control

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Artist: Chromeo

Album: She's in Control

Label: Vice

Review date: Feb. 15, 2004

Chromeo comes along to join the ranks of the 1980s revivalists, but, as with any comparison to the music of an entire decade, that statement requires some heavy qualifications. She’s in Control, their debut album, has all the elements that fans of electroclash™ would have loved about music in the ’80s, were they old enough to remember: drum machines (one per track), analog synths (similarly omnipresent), a talkbox (used on all but one track), and a guitar part on “Destination: Overdrive” that’s a dead ringer for Survivor’s lone contribution to the art world – the hook from “Eye of the Tiger.”

Not everything is as it would have been in 1983, however; the drum machine is just a little bit louder, the bass just a little more prominent. Clearly, Chromeo works in a world that already includes hip hop in its pop culture canon, something that we could not have said about most of the urban dance acts to whom they are often compared. (Although it’s something that we can say about the modern dance and electronica acts, to whom Chromeo bears almost no resemblance.) Unsurprisingly, given this element of their music, the group consists of two hip-hop producers – David Macklovitch (known here as Dave1) and Patrick Gamayal (Pee-Thug) – trying their hand at slow jams.

So She’s in Control updates things just a bit, but as an album it’s clearly an obeisance to Larry Blackmon, and aspires to be the same kind of full-on-the-floor dance music. They do their best to inform us of their retro intentions – “Me and My Man (On a Plane)” has some very tentative boasting (“This is a new sound / we came to get down / Our name is Chromeo / and we are in control”) while “You’re so Gangsta” has some nondescript, similarly boastful, praise from its female chorus (the title line, repeated over and over, presumably addressed to Dave1 and Pee-Thug). Everything coming out of Chromeo’s camp says that they are dead serious about making music in the mold of Jodeci and New Edition, and some of the time it’s hard to doubt them. Consider their own words, which I may be lifting out of context: “It’s just a side of me / you think it’s irony / I wish you tried to see / that I need someone to set me free. Perhaps they do just want to bring seduction music back for the twenty- and thirty-something music fans that remember those staples of high school dances, but there are a few reasons for skepticism. Their record label, for starters, is best known to the trucker hat set, and Jodeci probably wouldn’t put out a song like “Needy Girl,” whose protagonist suffers from head games, numerous instances of henpecking, and then has his recording session interrupted by a phone call from the needy girl in question (wow, that is needy).

As someone living in an age that’s hyper-obsessed with the free play of signs and signifiers, and having a liberal arts education that is supposed to cause me to notice such discrepancies wherever possible, I can’t think about whether Chromeo really “means it” without giving myself a blinding headache, and if they really do, then perhaps such questions no longer matter. Who really “means” anything anyway? So I’ll offer a summary judgment of both cases. If they don’t mean it, or if they’re somewhere in between, it’s hard to endorse the album; while I don’t have such a premium on my time that I demand everything I hear to be a Work of Serious Art, people’s in-jokes are best left to themselves, and away from the music-buying public. Plainly – defenders might say – I’m just missing the point; but really, this ability to miss the point is my point – I shouldn’t have to wrap my mind around the conceptual humor of the album prior to listening to it. If they do mean it, the album is just disappointing: full of slick beats of undisguised artifice and lacking the one thing all good slow jams need – namely, great vocals. Either way, She’s in Control probably isn’t worth your time.

By Tom Zimpleman

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