Perhaps the defining sound in electronic dance music throughout the last decade was the impossibly exciting brand of electro popularised by a number of French electro DJs and producers. At the forefront of this movement were Justice and Daft Punk, the two globe-straddling behemoths of French and, indeed, European dance music.
Before all those acts though came Vitalic. Born Pascal Arbez, Vitalic has never quite garnered the massive crossover success of many of his peers, despite arguably helping to define a wildly successful sound. Vitalic’s third album offers perhaps his most commercial material yet, but Rave Age is an album that forges little new ground. For a man who was once so adept at innovation and seeking new creative paths, much of Rave Age is a disappointment, the sound of a man content of tread over old ground.
As befits the title, Rave Age is something of a celebration of the transformative power of dance music and dance culture. Vitalic harnesses a celebratory feel with a number of bludgeoning, yet effective, anthems. Opener Rave Kids Go sets the tone. Pulverising beats and bubbling synth breaks are set against each other in a kind of relentless synth battle. It’s a pity then that the sonically powerful music is diluted by an irritating vocal hook reminiscent of Pendulum.
The best moments on Rave Age are the tracks that are less reverential to an established sound and template. Stamina is huge fun. A hyperactive blast between weirdly discombobulating synth lines and warped vocal effects, it has a dark nagging intensity that marks it out as a cut above much of the other more functional material here.
There is a sense throughout much of Rave Age of Vitalic retreading past glories. Tracks like No More Sleep and Lucky Star are enjoyable enough but they do not really offer anything different from what has gone before. The lack of progression is a malaise that frequently drags the album down.
The one indisputably great moment on the album is the one moment that sounds unlike any other. Under Your Sun is a lovely piece of electro pop, reminiscent of Goldfrapp at their most upbeat. A gorgeous female vocal is the perfect accompaniment to some shimmering synths and gentle beats. It’s a sound that you wish was repeated more often.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Rave Age is how dated is sounds at times. The music is, as ever, excellently put together and Vitalic has lost none of his skill as a producer or arranger. Yet, there is a feeling that he is operating in a bit of a comfort zone. There is a little exploration of new sounds. The disorienting malevolence of The March Of Skabah is one of few genuinely diverting moments on the record.
Despite being rather functional in its nature there is no doubt Rave Age is very successful at what it does. It is an album that you can imagine doing rather well in America right now. Americans have embraced a newfound love of what they call EDM (electronic dance music) over the past year or so and DJs like Deadmau5 are revered. Vitalic easily fits that bracket. Rave Age may be the album that catapults him into that superstar DJ stratosphere. It’s just a shame that it would be with his weakest album yet.