There are lots of things I dislike about Groove Armada. First and foremost is the name, but that song “I See You Baby (Shaking That Ass)” comes in at a really close second. To be fair to the two British DJs, though, their music is very well respected and can be, at its best, awesomely chill.
Their new album, Love Box, isn’t. Most of its songs easily fit into two groups, neo-disco “dance” and trip-hop. The dance songs sound upsettingly similar to each other, and worse, to every other generic dance song with words like “go!” or “yeah, yeah.” Some, like the opening track (and first single) “Purple Haze” are sonically interesting, with well-produced beats, but seemingly random Hendrix-like guitars or rapping into their music. Worse, the dance songs aren’t really danceable. And while the tunes are fun to listen to, it really doesn’t help when the name of the group is repeated ridiculously often (“Groove Armada is here! Groove Armada is here!”). On average, in fact, the lyrics of these quasi-dance tunes sound just wrong. Once you’re six minutes into the album, for instance, three drugs Groove Armada probably doesn’t use have been mentioned — the only word repeated more than “groove” is “shrooms.”
While the dance songs are often missteps, Groove Armada is at its best when it sticks to chill trip-hop. “Hands of Time” is just as good as anything recently done by groups like Air or Moby, and certainly the album’s best tune. The song’s beat is outstanding, though it is subtle enough to let folk legend Richie Havens have the spotlight. It isn’t a mistake, though; the tune is lyrically just as impressive as it is sonically (after all, Havens claimed to have co-written “All Along the Watchtower”). “Think Twice,” which features the singer Nenah Cherry, similarly shows how rich electronic music can be. The song builds from a six-chord piano loop to a climax that’s reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s jam at the end of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” Here Groove Armada’s genre-bending pays off, as they manage to combine the soulfulness of R&B and the energy of dance music.
The similarly emotional “Remember,” which features the London Community Gospel Choir, is so original that it made me think twice about using the word “generic” in this review. But while there are very strong tracks on Love Box, it just doesn’t hold together. Maybe it’s the annoying maybe-dance, maybe-disco songs. There is something likeable about the album though — even when the songs aren’t strong, they are at the very least fun.