Grovesnor, it would seem, is not just Hot Chip drummer Rob Smoughton’s ghost name for solo material. Rather, Grovesnor is more his alter ego, a retro-futuristic nightcrawler who “looks like a teacher but sings like Usher“. And if that isn’t a splendid proposition – in theory, at least – then we don’t know what is.
It is from behind this increasingly comprehensive mask that Smoughton is seeking to charm his way into the ears and hearts of Hot Chip’s following and beyond, his assumed identity meshing with a sense of irony to provide, perhaps, a failsafe against the kind of crashing and burning that often awaits more self-serious efforts.
Not that Soft Return – the first LP under the Grovesnor monicker – is a piss-take. Smoughton’s assertion that he loves the music too much make to make it pastiche rings true throughout, from instrumental, 10,000Hz-soundalike opener Turn Your Radio Up to tender, smouldering closer Cuckolded: “He’s more of an anti-hero,” says Smoughton. “If there’s comedy in these songs then that’s just the tragedy amplified to comic proportions.”
And the highlights between aren’t too hard to find: Taxi From The Airport channels ’80s electropop with style, its tinny percussion and wandering piano licks blossoming into a glorious sing-along chorus, while Nitemoves – already a cult sleeper hit – is the kind of cheesy ballad-gone-right whose virtues go far beyond accusations of ironic revivalism.
Dan, similarly, wouldn’t sound out of place on a Hall & Oates compilation, its rather inspired lyrical theme – “Dan, how can I be your best man / When I’ve been trying all that I can / To get your woman down / Get her to leave you?” – also aiming a nod and a wink at Elton John‘s Kiss The Bride. It couldn’t fail to get even the most cynical of toes tapping.
And while Find A Way To Stop Him exhibits an irresistible synth riff and When I Saw You Dance sculpts supermarket music into a delightful love song, the Grovesnor formula eventually starts to show signs of fatigue: No Doubt About It, though entirely enjoyable, represents another Hall & Oates lift-off; I Heard Violins huffs and puffs, but is neither here nor there; the Randy Newman-esque Dragon Tree sadly lacks the allure of its trackmates.
Such quibbles, however, are relatively minor, and Soft Return’s virtues outweigh its vices. There is enough here, for example, to forgive the Grovesnor alter ego’s tendency towards a faux-American accent, and enough original songwriting nous and humour to take this – essentially an exercise in retro revivalism – with a pinch of salt and just enjoy it for what it is.