As fellow disco survivor Nile Rodgers also evidently figured, why settle for tributes when you can seize the moment and pay yourself a long-playing compliment? Giorgio Moroder, who was among the dance-music legends honored on Daft Punk’s middlebrow but salutary Random Access Memories (and, incidentally, the only one called out by name), keeps behind his signature ’stache throughout the new omnibus album Deja Vu, but otherwise there isn’t a shred of sporting anonymity here. The music may bear his knob-twiddler-behind-the-curtain imprimatur, but the pose he strikes rips a page right out of the Calvin Harris/David Guetta/Steve Aoki playbook.
If there’s a mantra Moroder seems especially attached to throughout the album, it’s “74 Is the New 24,” the title and refrain of one of the only tracks that doesn’t feature a guest vocalist. We’d believe it even more if he meant the title to parse as “1974 Is the New 2024,” since dance music has for some time now straddled the nexus between futurism and retro-revivalism, and thanks in part to Moroder’s own pioneering work on tracks like Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” Sparks’s “The Number One Song in Heaven,” Blondie’s “Call Me,” and David Bowie’s “Cat People,” which brought electronic instrumentation (already decades emergent) into the firm grasp of the monolithic mainstream. A brave new world with a backbeat.
And yet it’s proven a shockingly easy formula to adapt, and with nary a pulsating EDM track out there that doesn’t owe at least some small debt to Moroder’s ’70s work, it’s hardly surprising to find the teacher struggling to assert himself among a teeming mass of his students. The title track, featuring Sia, is a Modjo-esque galloping anthem, asserting its uplift like the soundtrack to a FIFA event. “Back and Forth” utilizes Kelis’s destroyed vocal cords and some EQ-maxed stadium-ready undulations to disguise the fact that its basic chord structure is essentially an inverted rehash of “Flashdance…What a Feeling.”
Quite a lot of it sounds like warmed-over Kylie Minogue, which makes it both ironic and sort of touching that the album’s standout track, “Right Here, Right Now,” features the stalwart veteran herself. Alternately croaking, playful, and soaring, the track is a gorgeous midtempo workout that, true to its title, suggests neither a throwback nor a look forward. It simply is, like many great dance songs, 3 a.m. eternal. On the flip side of the spectrum is the woefully misguided Italo-ballad cover of “Tom’s Diner,” featuring Britney Spears. If “Love Hangover” was taped following a shot of Remy Martin delivered to Diana Ross’s lips, “Tom’s Diner” was preceded by a dose of Ambien. Deja Vu reminds the listener of something, all right: every other song currently playing, as Donna Summer once sang, on the radio.