Album Reviews

Shapeshifters – Sound Advice

(Positiva) UK release date: 20 March 2006

Shapeshifters - Sound Advice Dance music needs somebody to come along and smash it to pieces. Someone who refuses to use the keyboard pre-sets, the same old clichéd sounds, only then will dance music be able to gatecrash its way past the million guitar bands out there and back into widespread favour. Someone must drag it out of its formulaic malaise but, on the strength of Sound Advice, that is not going to be a task performed by the Shapeshifters.

Simon Marlin and Max Reich may have produced one of the biggest floor-fillers of 2005 with Lola’s Theme and followed that up with the similarly disco-led success Back To Basics but they seem happy to let dance music rest on its decaying mainstream laurels. The fact that they proclaim that dance music is not dead, oh no, not at all, on Over Me and use a syrupy ballad to convey their message just serves to reinforce that fact.

What made dance music so exciting was the fact it was constantly evolving, always changing as new sounds and styles emerged. It never stood still to catch its breath. Now it sits there lazily wondering why people feel uncomfortable to speak its name, lost in a nostalgic haze of its past glories. Perhaps it is too much to expect an act who have targeted the more commercial end of mainstream dance music from the start to reinvigorate the genre. In fact non-dance moments abound on this offering, demonstrating that the duo have more strings to their bow than mere floor-filling anthem slinging. You Never Know is straight-forward pop, catchy yet ultimately throwaway, but perhaps that is as pop should be. Sensitivity is also drenched in a gooey pop slick with disco coursing through its veins, which is hardly surprising when you discover it is a collaborative effort with ‘le freaks’ Chic.

The standout track is the chart-topping, filtered disco hit though. You may have heard Lola’s Theme to death by now but it still has that irresistible quality that makes you want to jump up and start making shapes: a taste of last summer that is the perfect antidote to the current bone-freezing cold. Much of what else is on offer is fairly featureless, however. Current single Incredible’s acoustic guitars may lend a hint of Basement Jaxx to proceedings but it lacks the potential to become a Renezvous-style classic.

Those expecting more dancefloor oriented fare should look to simple house infusion Really Feel and the hands-in-the-air simplicity of If In Doubt Go Out, both of which are well-crafted rabble rousers. Other mini peaks and troughs are Beautiful Heartache, with its orchestral strength and wispy female vocals, echoing Hybrid’s classy classical dance and Little Green Men which errs too far into incidental territory: ideal background music for Football Focus perhaps. Final track, Instead Of Falling, sees the album close in the same vein it started, veering back into pop territory once again: this time an overproduced, overpolished effort that creates such an inconsequential aural sheen you may well find your ears switch off half way through.

This is the sound of dance music with its feet up, lost in a fit of nostalgia, as it regurgitates moments from its glittering past. Exciting, innovative, forward-looking dance music does still exist out there but this album merely provides more ammunition for those proclaiming its death. Formulaic, safe and at times unimaginative, Sound Advice does little to bend the rules, let alone break them, but it does have some nice melodies and an unashamed commercial direction that may well see it spawn a few more top twenty singles yet.

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More on Shapeshifters
Interview: Shapeshifters
Shapeshifters – Sound Advice