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Review: Giorgio Moroder Invites Too Many Dancers to the Disco on ‘Deja Vu’

SPIN Rating: 6 of 10
Release Date: June 16, 2015
Label: RCA

Disco’s era might have gone the way of pet rocks, skinny John Travolta, and widespread turntable ownership, but the genre itself continues to cast its glimmer all over contemporary pop (Grammy-winning groove cyborgs Daft Punk, nightclub prince Todd Terje, and dance-pop siren Kylie Minogue, to choose but three example). Each purveyor of flashing-floor sweetness owes a debt to 75-year-old, Italian disco monarch Giorgio Moroder, who has finally released Déjà Vu, his first full-length in three decades, and whose accomplishments are too many to list here.

But we’ll try: On top of earning an in-demand electronic/house pedigree with vocoder-heavy efforts like 1977’s warbling From Here to Eternity and 1979’s rave-ready E=MC², Moroder is forever linked to Donna Summer discotheque smashes like “I Feel Love,” “Working the Midnight Shift,” and “Now I Need You” — and that’s not even counting film work like scoring Midnight Express (1978), producing and co-writing Blondie’s urgent American Gigolo hit, “Call Me,” and Berlin’s make-love-to-me Top Gun ballad, “Take My Breath Away.”

Even more impressive, though, is Moroder’s humble ability to make our ageist culture forget the fact that he’s well past retirement age on the well-carbonated Déjà Vu, which is stacked with collaborations from the industry’s — well, er, RCA Records’ — most eligible pop personalities: Sia, Foxes, Britney Spears, and Mikky Ekko.

The results are hit-or-miss and begin to combust on the ickily mismatched “Don’t Let Go,” featuring Ekko, who remains best known for his spot on Rihanna’s 2012 bathtub-cry staple “Stay.” Moroder isn’t to blame, really — you can practically smell the Right Guard under his arms as he works to orchestrate what-the-kids-like beat drops and synth-lined rhythms. It’s a shame that Ekko sounds more like a twerpy, pre-Neti pot Adam Levine on a track that calls out for Gloria Gaynor instead.

Matthew Koma — who, for clarity, is on Interscope — is equally unfit for the otherwise lit banger “Tempted.” Though the sexily written (“Tempted! It’s physically cruel watching you angels put on your red dancing shoes”) track nicely meshes retro strings and computerized voice effects (“Burn for me / Burn for me”) with a 21st-century production sheen, Koma’s contribution is the vocal equivalent of a vanilla bundt cake.

Other Déjà Vu guests are more naturally suited to the task: Kylie Minogue toured with Moroder earlier this year, and they’re a nice fit on the breathy, heart-thumping “Right Here, Right Now.” Sass queen Charli XCX is half Minogue’s age (and therefore doesn’t remember the era she’s emulating), but she’s a top-form pop chameleon on the stuttering “Diamonds” — playfully able to filter her winking good-time cheekiness to Moroder’s sonic opulence.

Pop’s favorite sauce-maker Kelis (Ninja Tune) is a pleasant surprise on the thumping, club-ready “Back and Forth”; her thick-voiced zest organically complements the producer’s glistening aesthetic. Then we have Britney — yes, that one, bitch — whose robotized voice parallels her default facial expression on a crashing cover of Suzanne Vega’s 1987 folk-pop standby “Tom’s Diner.” Moroder works Spears’ cadaverous vocals till they’re glossy and streamlined, dressing up her monosyllabic “duh-duh-duh“s with a pulse-racing bass line, scale-climbing synths, and his own robo-trills.

For somebody who dislikes being the center of attention (he told SPIN as much in a recent interview), Déjà Vu‘s finest moments are when it’s just Moroder and his vocoder (“4 U With Love,” “74 Is the New 24,” “La Disco”). Tacking Big Pop Names onto every song for the sake of it, however, just makes Déjà Vu sound disjointed and more like a Pure Disco compilation than a cohesive album. Moroder is the king of contemporary dance-pop collaboration, and that clearly hasn’t changed with age — just refer to 2013’s spoken-word anomaly with Daft Punk, “Giorgio by Moroder.”  But this long-awaited “solo” return doesn’t sound like Moroder had as much creative control (especially over the guest curation) as he deserves. Somebody send RCA the memo: You can’t squeeze blood from a mirrorball.