Well, the good news is that the fourpiece have made a proper fun, open-ended album in Paris. Supposedly inspired by soul music, elements of the genre are certainly weaved into the house-inspired ‘Lighten Up’ or the neo-soul groove of ‘Only Mine’. But, by far, more potent influences are at work; the most obvious influence is the Pet Shop Boys, with Tom Burke’s vocals sounding strikingly similar to Neil Tennant in its infectious, helium-injected hyperactivity. The big-haired 80s ghosts of Soft Cell and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark can be seen lurking throughout the record, which certainly ain’t a bad thing; the melodies are New Romantic, kitsch and ridiculously camp.
Best of all, the ring-pull has been snapped-off and their sound has become airy and – in some places – bloody massive. ‘Are Your Ready?’ wears its pop-slogan T-Shirt with pride, with all its gigantic euro-pop synths and chart-ready hooks. Ridiculously addictive backing-vocals and harmonies are abound; ‘Trouble’ has call-and-response bits ridiculously like The Police (in a great, great way, trust) and the snaking chic-ness of ‘European Girl’ is filled with sassily-delivered “She don’t need no chaperone’s throughout its suave late-night atmosphere.” There’s a bit of filler in the form of the relatively stagnant ‘Xmas In Japan’; but pretty much all of the other tracks are just great big fun dancefloor fillers.
No matter whether inside the bedroom or out of it, a little too much of the record - from the house-style keys of “Lighten Up” through to lost-on-a-tropical-island closer “Idiots” with its calypso rhythms - ends up receding into the background when experienced start to finish. In the past Burke and the band have talked about wanting to release an album that could pass as a “greatest hits” release, chock-full of anthems. Considered on those terms, it’s not surprising that the whole of European Soul is less than the sum of its parts.
To be sure, there are some first-rate potential singles hiding amidst the bombast. You can picture the beach balls bobbing around a summer festival crowd listening to “Are You Ready?” with its gargantuan synth lines and wailing call-and-response chorus (“Shoot at the sun/hello!/are you ready?”). The chic mid-tempo minimalism of “European Girl” provides a welcome change of pace, even if the background refrain feels faintly patronising (“She don’t need no chaperone”). Elsewhere, the bass-heavy retro-futurism of “Trouble” is great fun, along with the outlandishly catchy “All I Want is You”.
In the meantime, whether all of this makes for a compelling sales pitch probably depends on whether an album is supposed to serve any greater purpose than soundtracking a summer of festivals, barbecues and of course, glassy-eyed casual sex.
Citizens! in Deutschland:
22.05.15 Dortmund, Way Back When Festival