AlunaGeorge Body Music(Island) Buy it from Insound
Pop music has reached a point of stasis. A cursory glance at the pop charts will tell you that while there will always be the odd Get Lucky or I Love It, it’s mostly an uninspiring, homogenous mass. Pop used to mean revolution, it used to be pioneering, it used to be at the forefront of fashion – where are we now?
Today’s pop music is the equivalent of half past midnight in a mid-sized, provincial town’s only nightclub where there’s a 2-for-1 offer on supermarket own-brand vodka alcopops. Teenagers in freshly-ironed clothes inexpertly paw at each other’s erogenous zones, seemingly oblivious to the tears, screams, fights and E number-laced projectile vomit that kicking-out time will bring.
Simultaneously, in an upmarket American club, the stars are in the VIP area. Drake, Kanye West and The Weeknd are sat in the corner draped in glamorous women in various states of undress, yet each man stoically stares at a portrait of himself, while a solitary tear runs its way down his left cheek. Rihanna and Miley Cyrus twerk against any surface more viscous than treacle, Jason Derülo repeatedly sings his own name to no-one in particular, and Pitbull sits on a throne of chipboard, lip curled with the sinister smile of a man who’s just learnt your attractive younger sister is recently past the age of consent. Pharrell’s there, walking round with an eyebrow forever impishly raised, and there’s a phalanx of broadsheet journalists too, desperately trying to intellectualise the situation, each of their notepads marked with the phrase “Cultural appropriation?” underlined twice. Meanwhile, Daft Punk shake their over-sized robot heads sadly, muttering, “Nous sommes vraiment désolés”, before Skrillex and Avicii take over the decks, making the whole, far-fetched scenario melt in an eardrum-shattering cacophony of airhorns.
The whole sorry debacle is enough to make you long for the days where pop itself was innovative, not just the technology it was recorded and played upon. A dozen or so years ago was the most recent such period, with R&B producers like Timbaland, The Neptunes (featuring the aforementioned Pharrell) and Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins were going through their imperial phases. The music was forward-looking and exciting, whilst still retaining radio-friendly sensibilities. Like so many things, it didn’t seem so special at the time and as Joni says, you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone. Little did we know that they’d pave paradise, and put up a multi-screen cinema, a chain nightclub and a branch of Nando’s.
With that in mind, hooray for AlunaGeorge! The London vocalist/producer duo – she’s called Aluna; he’s called George – are doing their utmost to hark back to those better times. As a result, they’ve made the album of the year! Unfortunately, it’s not the album of this year per se, but rather the album of 1998 or 1999 instead.
Much has been made of AlunaGeorge’s mining of turn of the century R&B and it’s true, there’s a strong sense of the invention, synths and electronic flourishes that characterised much of that music. However, nothing new is added to the formula and in terms of the beats and rhythms, it’s actually something of a step back. This leaves us in the bizarre situation where Body Music is progression in terms of where we are today, but we’re still behind where we used to be.
Take a typical Body Music album track like Best Be Believing. It’s interesting, it’s exciting and the melodies are great. But then compare it do Aaliyah’s Are You That Somebody?, Brandy’s What About Us? or Bills, Bills, Bills by Destiny’s Child and it seems light years behind. Whereas the rhythms in those tracks are jerky and give the song extra character, AlunaGeorge seem content to stick to a more simplistic 4/4.
Maybe this is all expecting too much. Body Music is actually an extremely good debut album that contains fantastic songs. You Know You Like It deserves to be a monster hit, Your Drums, Your Love remains one of the best singles of the 21st Century (those opening few seconds of reverb-heavy synth alone justify the existence of this record) and on Lost And Found – the rare occasion where AlunaGeorge really do let loose with the beats – they create an addictive track that sounds like an update of Flowers by Sweet Female Attitude.
Body Music isn’t always radio-friendly hits-in-waiting, though; the ballads have substance despite the hit-and-miss nature of the lyrics (a recurring problem on Body Music) and throughout, the melodies are strong enough that you’d assume they were the work of a crack songwriting squad rather than simply the duo themselves.
Had Body Music been released in 1999, it would have been perfect. It would have a natural step advancing the course of popular music, encompassing elements of then-fledging genres like 2-step, and marrying them with a great batch of songs. However, as good as this record is, it’s difficult not to see it as a missed opportunity to some extent, and perhaps a better record exists using these exact same songs, but with a slightly tweaked approach to production.
The album closes with a cover of Montell Jordan’s This Is How We Do It. It’s well done, fun to listen to, and a damn sight better than 90% of other pop music right now, yet you couldn’t really describe it as essential. That’s Body Music in a nutshell.9 September, 2013 - 04:27 — Joe Rivers