Danger Mouse and James Mercer get together for a shiny but slightly hollow second album of sci-fi electro-pop
By Bella Todd|
There comes a time, even in the lives of super-producers and heroes of melodic indie-rock, when all a man wants to do is sit up late shooting the shit about ’70s sci-fi. And what else, after all, are side-projects for? In the five years since the duo’s first album as Broken Bells, James Mercer has released a fourth Shins record with an all-new band, while beatsmith Danger Mouse (best known for his work on Gorillaz’s Demon Days and as one half of Gnarls Barkley) has been busy producing the Black Keys, Norah Jones and U2. When the pair reconvened at Danger Mouse’s L.A. pad to work on new Broken Bells material, they didn’t want to go dancing. They wanted to watch Logan’s Run.
With the words "mid," "life" and "crisis" popping up in their promotional interviews and an attendant film project featuring Anton Yelchin (from the Star Trek reboot films) going starry-eyed for a space babe in a big glass helmet, the result is the aptly named After the Disco: an album of downbeat synth-pop and sadsack space disco tinged with gleaming fatigue and where’s my jetpack? ennui.
The "download now"s here are Bee Gees homage "Holding On For Life" and the funk-bubbled title track with its mood-setting lyric: "After the disco, the shine just fades away." Two slices of bittersweet mid-pace disco, they pair some of the sheen of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories with forlorn street-corner lyrics. Mercer cracks out the compressed falsetto that, when it first appeared on their first album with "The Ghost Inside," helped join the dots between Mercer and previous Danger Mouse collaborators Cee-Lo Green and Damon Albarn. Danger Mouse weighs in lightly with shimmering electro trims and woozy grooves.
There’s more deft manipulation of retro tropes on "Perfect World," which opens the album with sci-fi zips and blips before serving up a synth line so boldly reminiscent of Crockett’s theme from Miami Vice that it’s practically wearing his white suit. Less engaging are the likes of "Lazy Wonderland," with its strung-out Beatles vibe, and dreary acoustic ballad "Angel and the Fool."
Broken Bells’ first album was a blend of casually crunchy beats and effortlessly catchy melodies, enjoyable but surprisingly unadventurous. This follow-up feels, in its defining moments, like a deliberate retreat into retro-futurism in the face of all real life has failed to live up to. After the Disco has its moments. But if this is how a super-producer and a hero of melodic indie-rock feel about life, the universe and everything, it’s also a wee bit depressing.