Album review: Simian Mobile Disco – Temporary Pleasure

Stagnant second from Monkey's producer and a cast of indie stars

Welcome to tomorrow. Syrian techno is the new Afro-pop, robots are the new humans,
all new guitars come complete with an in-built MicroKorg and [a]Simian Mobile Disco[/a] are still making dance music for people who don’t like dance music. They may be ace on paper – when rampant eclecticism is a matter of course for our finest young stars, what’s not to love about the idea of one of indie’s biggest producers teaming up with his long-time muso muse to collectively unleash their inner rave? – but it’s a sad truism that no matter how hard they try, SMD will always be slightly bumpipe. Hell, the overriding emotion ‘Temporary Pleasure’ leaves you with is wanting to buy some aesthetically pleasing buffed chrome kitchenware. And that’s not good.

But try hard they do. The guestlist takes in [a]Yeasayer[/a]’s Chris Keating and Rent-A-Croon himself Gruff Rhys through to the likes of Jamie Lidell and [a]Telepathe[/a], but it speaks volumes that one of the best songs, ‘10,000 Horses Can’t Be Wrong’ is little more than a few minimal blips and beeps and a playful melody that clambers all over the bassline. In a record characterised by a lack of character it feels like a crisp, seductive interlude into a world where SMD are ice-kings of the People’s Republic Of Synthtania rather than two blokes who met at uni. It’s a vodka and cranberry (except with liquid nitrogen instead of vodka and puréed Lady Gaga instead of cranberry juice) in an album of warm, weak lagerpiss, and is one of the few moments of standout awesomeness.

It’s interesting that James Ford’s production work can take in the likes of [a]Klaxons[/a], the Arctics, [a]Mystery Jets[/a], [a]The Last Shadow Puppets[/a] and [a]Peaches[/a] and remain invisible while bringing out the best in these disparate artists, because each guest appearance on ‘Temporary Pleasure’ seems to suck the diluted soul of the vocalist in question and smear it thinly across the mortgaged beats. The upshot is that the album sounds like a parade of should’ve-been-deleted B-sides: ‘Bad Blood’, incorporating the none-more-bland yawn of Alexis Taylor, is so dull even his day job colleagues in [a]Hot Chip[/a] would scratch their chins and look guiltily at the floor if he demoed it at a band practice. ‘Pinball’ is SMD doing low-rent dubstep sprinkled with useless effects, wafting atmospherics, cod-philosophy and neutered triggered beats so it sounds just like a Telepathe track. Oh wait! Telepathe are actually on it! So that’s why it’s so half-arsed.

Jamie Lidell’s appearance on ‘Off The Map’ threatens – only threatens, mind – to elevate it into the sort of tune shit wine bars play to drown out the sound of suits yelling at each other on a Friday night while the one guy in the group with actual taste taps his foot, but only ends up circling the drain of dullness after four repetitive minutes. And ‘Cream Dream’? That must be a Neon Neon offcut… oh wait! Gruff Rhys is on it, etc etc etc. ‘Synthesise’ and ‘Ambulance’, on the other hand, are so characterless it’s almost a shock that there’s no robotic voice chiming in to say, ‘Thank you for holding, your call is very important to us and we will answer it as soon as one of our operators is free’.

It’s Beth Ditto who provides one of the most surprising performances, as ‘Cruel Intentions’ is sweet disco-fodder made notable by the Gossip frontwoman’s newfound sense of restraint. She reins in her yowl, so rather than bellowing blue murder she coos and purrs her way through a series of coy chat-up lines set to some cheekily subtle popping electro: “Call me up, we’ll hang out, I’m down for whatever/Tell me, am I making myself clear?”.

And ‘Turn Up The Dial’ is the sort of big-bass thumper Young Fathers are becoming known for, drenched in hormonal filth and humming of sex – it’s the sort of belter that could conceivably be called a ‘party-starter’, but the only shindigs it’ll herald are orgies in decadent country houses, so we’ll just leave that one there. ‘Audacity Of Huge’, on the other hand, initially seems as annoying as stubbing your toe but, with Yeasayer’s Chris Keating waffling on about the Sultan Of Brunei, PM Dawn and James Joyce, it somehow becomes listenable. Relatively speaking, of course.

So, in genre-mashed mid-2009, SMD have actually taken a step backwards by, yes, making an album of dance music for indie fans who don’t like dance music. And that it isn’t resoundingly terrible (as background music it’s passable, as long as you can’t actually hear it properly) is due to its general beigeness rather than the sparse flashes that illuminate it. Leave your brain running unsupervised for 10 minutes on the bus and you’ll end up humming ‘Temporary Pleasure’ even if you’ve never heard it – it’s less an album and more a mental screensaver. Hello yesterday.

Ben Patashnik

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