When you hear a really fantastic remix, it’s not always easy to parse who’s primarily responsible for the triumph. Such was the case last year with Chromeo and Oliver’s hard electro-pop makeover of Donna Summer’s “Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger).” Is it the strength of Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton’s songwriting? Is it the sheen of Chromeo’s steely post-production? Or is it the nerve of Donna’s gospel-trained pipes tying it all together? To hear Chromeo’s Dave 1 and P-Thugg tell it in recent interviews, it’s the synthesis of all those elements, or the “dialogue between the present and the past,” as they told the Daily Star. It’s that key word “dialogue” that separates them and the retro brigade’s other guiding lights (namely that little-known indie duo who just swept the Grammys) from the riff-raff throwing a Fender Rhodes atop their tracks and calling it a day.
With the release of their latest album, White Women, Chromeo is certainly in the right place in their careers at the right time. Eighties revivalism is unquestionably the new sincerity, with absolutely no shortage of earnest practitioners—Futurecop!, Kavinsky, Com Truise, Miami Nights 1984—and the avatar of a scorpion-jacketed Ryan Gosling at the center of the movement’s mood board. Even happy housers present (Todd Terje), electroclash veterans past (Vitalic), and divas eternal (Robyn) have been getting into the act, frequently showing up the young bucks even as they are indirectly confirmed as prime trendsetters.
As if sensing that there’s a limit to how much one can coast on a decade-straddling posture, White Women downplays the hot-pink filigrees as often as the album indulges in yuppie cocaine tingles. “Jealous (I Ain’t with It)” kicks off with a bright guitar riff that could’ve just as easily been lifted from Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” whereas the vaguely paranoid sing-along licks of “Hard to Say No” suggest Steely Dan attempting to imitate Joe Raposo. “Sexy Socialite” finds the common ground between Devo and LCD Soundsystem, and the alternately techie/ebullient “Frequent Flyer” seats Adonis down right next to Martha Wash.
That’s not to say a lot of the album doesn’t sound more or less like “Oh Sheila.” “Somethingood” boasts a super slender rhythmic track and tangy, Diet Slice guitar interjections. “Flyer” even makes an in-jokey reference to Prince and his profuse imitators with an interlude voiceover intoning, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We’d like to welcome you aboard this Flight 777 to Minneapolis.”
The album’s title, a reference to the softcore Helmut Lang photography tome Dave 1 (née Macklovitch) reportedly displays in his home, suggests Chromeo’s dialectic musical engagement also carries over into the subject matter of their deceptively direct ditties. The décor conveys a sort of pan-era Pangaea Chromeo’s limited lyrical content is usually in discourse with. “Old 45’s” muses with oddly misappropriated nostalgia, “If you think romance is dead and gone, find an old jukebox full of 45’s, pop a nickel in and dance with me.” “Play the Fool” pairs a chorus right out of ELO’s wistful “Last Train to London” with the mournful observation that “no one escapes from loss.” Even Solange, no stranger to conflicted dialogue (ahem), even drops in for a now-questionably conciliatory verse. Derivative though White Women often is, and knows it is, Chromeo’s level of engagement remains well above #TBT posturing.