Groove Armada emerged from the dance explosion of the early 90s to find themselves soundtracking a thousand adverts. Since the ubiquity of At the River though, they have chosen to move away from the coffee table and towards the club with tracks such as the reggae-inflected Superstylin’. Black Light, their sixth album, finds them enlarging their repertoire to relax into wider influences. In the absence of a frontman they are aging well.
With the dance genre competing with late 90s RnB for the largest phone bill for guest artists, this album is predictably a collaborative effort. Influences this time include Italo-disco, and notably The Human League on Cards to Your Heart: the sound of machines happily entertaining themselves. This album understands dance music is as much about the getting ready and the come-down as it is the club, and its slightly chaotic first half echoes the sound of home drinking, shared hairdryers and waiting mini-cabs.
However, it settles halfway through, with the band wisely presenting the best song to their most illustrious collaborator, Bryan Ferry. The perpetual lothario effortlessly inhabits the midnight ache of Shameless, sharpening his seduction across a slow electro burn. Fall Silent, featuring as it does Nick Littlemore, beautifully echoes the shining soft-rock sweep of Empire of the Sun. However, some ideas thrown at the wall to see if they stick actually crash right through. The brutal beats of Not Forgotten are reminiscent of, though less eloquent than, former contemporaries Leftfield.
Groove Armada's weaknesses remain, with some ideas failing to stretch across entire songs. Warsaw says little for the 40 songs not making the cut, although the elegant New York indie of Just for Tonight easily compensates. It’s a shame this set only finds its groove halfway through, and that in places the production feels rushed. The closing lullaby, the Bronski Beat-esque History, which features a gorgeous and preconception-busting vocal from Will Young, best demonstrates the way forward: less is more. --Tom Hocknell
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