Maybe if he could kill the puritan inside himself, uptight [B]Armand[/B] might just enjoy the ride.
What a confused chap our Armand is. He declares war on dance music, branding most of it a “joke”, despite being a highly paid remixer and chart-topping disco star. On this, his third album, the one-man funk phenomenon takes issue with tribalism and snobbery in music, only to stress his keeping-it-real B-boy credentials at every turn. With grating self-consciousness, he even includes a radio interview snippet in which he denies being super-rich. Bloody hell. Protesting too much or what?
Although it has been billed as the multinational New Yorker’s tough-talking state-of-the-planet address, ‘Killing Puritans’ does not offer any coherent sense of social or political awareness – or indeed any coherent sense at all. The title track waffles vaguely about taking mankind back to the “essence of spirituality” where “individualism is god” – erm, pardon? Later, Mr Angry signs off with the groaningly titled bluesy garage stomper ‘Conscience’, in which he solemnly informs us that, “All I see around me is escapism and sarcasm and greed and I’m just sick of it”. Right on, Armo mate. Looked in the mirror lately?
Like, deep or what? Profound like a Calvin Klein perfume commercial.
But in fairness, when he plays to his strengths, Van Helden rocks. Literally in the case of ‘Little Black Spiders’, which splices the power chords of ultra-naff German soft-metal knobheads Scorpions into a [I]War Of The Worlds[/I] breakbeat bombast of Dresden-flattening power. Or ‘Watch Your Back (Headhunters)’, a soulful house groove which blossoms into eight minutes of spring-loaded sambatronica. Or ‘Breakdancers Call’, which corrals a splatter of jazzy drum breaks into a piston-pumping big-beat projectile.
Hats off too for plundering Gary Numan‘s techno-pop milestone ‘Cars’ for current single ‘Koochy’, even if this is where the line between Armand and Ali G blur: steal a famous riff, loop it, beef up the beats and lay down a fatuous punani-centric rhyme on top.
Innit. And there is plenty more lightweight filler here, like the Will Smith-style disco-rap ‘Full Moon’, or the hip-house duet with Junior Sanchez on ‘Hybridz’, which aspires to Kool Keith space-porn surrealism but descends instead into puerile name-calling.
Ultimately, ‘Killing Puritans’ is well-crafted and commendably diverse, but somewhat joyless and cold. It aspires to social significance without having much serious to say, just as its creator casts himself as a taboo-trashing auteur rather than accept his true status as a skilled artisan in the commercial dance field. Van Helden is great at creating slamming neo-disco hooks, as half this album testifies. But the rest just proves how clumsy and limited he is when it comes to making genuinely progressive, innovative music. Maybe if he could kill the puritan inside himself, uptight Armand might just enjoy the ride.