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THE CRITIC: Datarock’s “Red” is a Musical Homage to the 80’s

by Rudy Klapper 2 September 2009 156 views No Comment E-mail Rudy Klapper

Datarock - Red

Young Aspiring Professionals 2009

Rating: 6/10


The ‘80s live again (and again, and again) on Datarock’s second proper album, the ominously titled Red. With its dystopian album art and the crazed cyber-punk vibe of opener “The Blog,” one unfamiliar with Datarock might misconstrue Red as a twisted version of the future through the lens of Orwell’s 1984, where technology rules supreme and human emotions are in danger of dying out. A few more songs in, however, and it becomes clear that Datarock are the most reverent of ‘80s worshippers, taking all those glorious synthed-out romantic soundscapes and making their own millennial homage.

Generally lumped in with the mid-2000s wave of electro-rock revivalists (see: LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, Klaxons, etc.), the Norwegian duo’s debut was a fittingly funky dance-punk jam, a record tailor-made for kick starting any hipster party. Red continues that proud tradition, but almost wholly submerses everything into a ‘80s fugue in an effort to pay tribute to their most important influences. And when I say submerse everything, I mean it - Datarock has claimed that every instrument used on the record was manufactured prior to 1983, song titles reference multiple pop cultural touchstones of the decade (“Molly” is, of course, about that heroine of so many Gen-X youths, Molly Ringwald), and one song’s lyrics (“True Stories”) is made up entirely of Talking Heads lyrics.

Such a one-minded dedication often lends these kinds of concept albums a bit of a stale quality - after all, who hasn’t heard the music of the ‘80s before? From the beginning, Datarock do their best to keep things interesting. Opener “The Blog” is the most disconcerting tune here, an abrasive, fast-paced electro anthem that opens with very John Hughes-ian synths before roaring into a fuzzed-out, almost punk riff with scattered spoken-word recordings and vocalist Fredrik Saroea’s throaty proclamations. Its quasi-horror-movie title is no coincidence: the song fairly drips with techno-punk menace, and is a far cry from everything that follows.

First single “Give It Up” is an appropriately bouncy intro into what Datarock are really all about after “The Blog,” a jittery guitar pulse and hyper-speed drum machine propelling the song onto indie club dance floors with ease. Unlike many of their peers, Datarock keep the electric guitar just as prominent in the mix as their beloved synths, giving songs like “Give It Up” and the funky “Dance!” a sort of Franz Ferdinandian feel to them. They certainly maintain their ‘80s infatuation as promised, however; from the aforementioned “Molly” to the spacey ring of “Back To The Seventies,” Red is an album that keeps both feet firmly planted in Breakfast Club territory, for better or worse.

But unlike last year’s similarly themed (yet superior) Saturdays=Youth by M83, Datarock’s preference for nonstop partying tends to drag the album down over the course of an overly long thirteen tracks, and although “The Blog” showed an admirable attempt at sounding unique, too much of Red sounds like merely acceptable dance-punk. Tracks like the too-short “Do It Your Way” or the unbearably pretentious spoken-word verses of “Fear of Death” make feeble attempts at branching out, while “Amarillion”s crisp guitar lines and dreamy vocals are sabotaged by an awkward song structure. Only “The Pretender” reaches that perfect storm of influences Datarock strive for throughout Red: guitars chime and slice around a skittery synth melody while Saroea does his best Morrissey imitation, creating the kind of retro masterpiece that Datarock fruitlessly try to come up with on songs like the one-dimensional “True Stories.”

But for all their single-minded impulses to make the best ‘80s album that never was, it’s when they shift gears a bit and develop their own sound that Datarock truly come into their own. While it takes them until the last two songs to do so, the wait is worthwhile. “Not Me” is a rave-up monster, a four-on-the-floor beat launching a shimmering guitar melody that devolves into an absolutely thrilling effects-laden guitar breakdown, while closer “New Days Dawn,” with its lounge-y feel and Saroea’s uncharacteristically relaxed vocals, is the perfect kind of sultry ballad the album was missing.

It’s these final cuts that cement Red as such a charming record, but it’s an album that still leaves one feeling just a little bit disappointed after everything’s said and done. Like a frothy ‘80s teen romance that’s all style and little substance, Datarock’s latest is one that has all the parts to a great, if not classic, electro-rock tribute to its idols, but one that is somehow missing that distinctive ingredient that separates it from the rest of the pack.

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