Music Reviews

Kavinsky Outrun

(Mercury) Rating - 7/10

Pretty much any kid who grew up amongst the sensory assault of the arcade in the late 80s and early 90s will at some point have succumbed to the allure of Outrun; a racing game that brazenly disobeyed The Highway Code and only offered about five minutes of play to even the best of gamers (the majority instead falling victim to its incredibly steep learning curve long before that). But it did come in a really cool (to pre-pubescent eyes at least) half-chassis cabinet and let you choose your own tinny soundtrack with a turn of the steering wheel. So, with its arguable progeny already eulogised in the form of The Cardigans’ Gran Turismo, it was surely only a matter of time before someone gave Outrun its own musical tribute.

It’s unlikely that anyone would have expected it to turn out like this though. Drawing on his previous career as an actor, Vincent Belorgey now hides behind the persona of Kavinsky, a teenager from 1986 who, in a Tetsuo the Iron Man/Moonwalker-esque plot twist, was mangled together with the game’s iconic red convertible in a car crash, emerging twenty years later as a man-machine zombie, compelled to create French House music for all eternity.

It’s a neat concept to essentially make a fairly backwards-looking piece of work seem a lot more exciting, and, while it’s true to say that the concept isn’t really maintained over the course of the album (considering much of it is cobbled together from EPs released over the past six years, that’s not at all surprising), it does serve to make the permanently-sunglasses-sporting, Ferrari-owning excesses of Belorgey a lot more palatable. Instead, what we get are portentous/borderline hilarious opening and closing monologues, delivered with a cool, albeit heavily accented blankness, that serve to frame the story, and then a bunch of tracks that sound a hell of a lot like Daft Punk. Although, ironically the track that Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo worked on, Nightcall, whose measured noir coolness will be instantly recognisable to anyone who saw Drive (and is, and probably ever shall be, the best thing that CSS’ Lovefoxx has been involved with that wasn’t Music is My Hot Hot Sex), is probably the least Daft Punk-sounding thing here.

That being said, while Kavinsky does share a fondness for the same vintage Yamaha synths and production trickery with Thomas Bengalter and De Homem-Christo, there’s one thing that he knows more about than the venerable duo: video games. For all their technologic posturing, the robot-styled act really were 'human after all', as evidenced by their uncanny grasp of a hip-shaking bass-line, and that their Tron soundtrack, despite its subject matter, was about as close to a video game aesthetic as Dan Brown is to Shakespeare. Outrun, on the other hand is so steeped in the culture that tracks could effectively be lifted wholesale and placed into games (and, indeed, have been, with Kavinsky popping up on the soundtracks of Grand Theft Auto IV and V); the frenzied low-tech looping of Testarossa Autodrive and Deadcruiser might bring induce sweaty flashbacks to the white-knuckle tension of those notoriously tricky mountain and night-time set levels, and the treated vocals on could well be summed up as a being the sound of an old Texas Industries speech chip with a custom ‘allure’ setting – think a Speak 'n' Spell that really likes it when you get a word right.

Fittingly, for a fairly cobbled-together idea, that’s not all there is to Outrun. While a fair amount of the added accoutrements could be said to be merely expanding laterally into the lives of the adolescent gamers outside of the arcade – most tracks come with some kind of synth-based homage to pomp of the guitar solo in its heyday, First Blood is surely a homage to the Stallone posters that must have adorned millions of bedroom walls, even if it does base itself around the vocals of a Cee-Lo Green-sound-a-like, and the slightly lumpen rap of Suburbia does do a neat job of marrying the retro concept to the resolute nowness of mainstream hip-hop lyricism – the influences don’t begin and end in the 80s. Disco strings prop up Roadgame and Rampage could be mistaken for the theme song to a 60s spy show, recorded off a beaten-up VHS tape. Not that any of these are as immediately evocatively successful as the rest of the album, but they do at least serve to stave off accusations of monotony.

It’s tempting to label Kavinsky as something of a charlatan with nothing new to bring to the table, what with his famous friends, previous acting career, and the fact that it’s taken him six years to finally get his act together in the delivering an album stakes (and, rather unfortunately, he’s timed it right when everyone is expecting the imminent return of the genre’s masters). On the other hand doing so would involve missing perhaps the most rousingly, entertainingly, ridiculously dumb record that 2013 will have to offer. Sometimes it’s better to just shut-up and enjoy the ride, even if the driving’s a bit erratic at times.