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Chromeo’s Sappy Soul-Pop Comes of Age on ‘White Women’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: May 13, 2014
Label: Atlantic/Big Beat

At the beginning, Chromeo had to be a joke. An over-styled, overly self-aware Arab-Jew duo signed to Vice Records cribbing Hall & Oates’ synth-pop playbook with tongue in talkboxed cheek—the whole thing was more sit-com setup than bona-fide band. During their first US tour, Dave 1 and P Thug regularly ridiculed adoring audiences, as if sincere affection wasn’t part of the gag. This was the early ’00s, the height of the War on Terror and Irony as Art.

Maybe it was too hostile a time for a band so naked in its goofball nostalgia. Ten years later, with the arrival of White Women, Chromeo are signed to Atlantic, sell out big rooms around the world and headline major festivals above younger neo-retro acts with punny names. Mainstream alt radio cruises the ’80s-baiting roller rink, spinning hit after dance-pop hit. Dave and Thug are no more serious than before but their comedy is finally timely, their keytar-swinging aesthetic pervasive. Everyone’s laughing together now.

Which puts White Women squarely at the intersection of trendy and passé—a sterling opportunity for a band as brand-savvy as Chromeo. Who needs this music? Main-stage crowds at Coachella and Bonnaroo, state-university undergrads who consume alcohol, anyone confused or impressed by a Daryl Hall cosign. It’s a broad market.

Chromeo initiated White Women back in ’04; the album breaks no new ground but instead polishes a well-trod dance floor. No doubt Thug and Dave are better at playing instruments and writing songs. In fact, second single “Come Alive” is the apotheosis of Chromeo. Ten years building to a song like this is time well spent. Like the entire album, it’s flawlessly produced, features a charmingly obtuse vocal bridge (“I wish I could love you down right now on the kitchen floor”) and equates fledgling romance with some kind of divine union. But that chorus! On an album of not-great choruses, this one is locked-in and blissed-out—a minor miracle. Credit Chaz Bundick, who provides a verse here, for elevating Chromeo’s game.

Solange does the same thing two songs later when she smolders all over “Lost on the Way Home.” Then Ezra Koenig goes full soul man in “Ezra’s Interlude.” And LA-based production duo Oliver is involved throughout White Women (whoever’s playing that Nile Rogers-style guitar—dig “Over Your Shoulder,” “Hard to Say No” and the sweet solo on electro-ballad “Old 45’s”—is a hero).

The infusion of fresh blood is crucial. It’s not that Chromeo’s run out of ideas—they’ve been a one-idea band all along. But now they’ve got more of the world singing along, so their brand of fun suddenly means a little bit more.