There is a veritable army of musical masterminds credited on the new Chromeo album, Head Over Heels: Pino Palladino, the bassist who anchors D’Angelo’s albums; Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, the writer/producer behind Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” and Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name;” Tawatha Agee, who has backing vocal credits on a slew of essential Luther Vandross LPs; and Raphael Saadiq, the Tony! Toni! Toné! star and neo-soul maven. Taken together, this A-list assortment have contributed to an abundance of astounding music.
It’s odd, then, that Chromeo’s sound doesn’t change one bit on Head Over Heels – why bring out the big guns for more of the same? At this point, you know the drill: smooth, aggrieved-loverman vocals from lead singer Dave 1 served up on a plush bed of post-disco R&B – chicken-scratch guitar, in-your-face bass pops, synths that swell and stab. Chromeo have never been the only advocates for this sound – some of the artists who helped create it, like Charlie Wilson and Johnny Gill, still release music regularly – but their staunch commitment is admirable; you can’t call them dabblers.
If there’s a course adjustment on Head Over Heels, it’s a small one: the duo bring in several rappers with recent chart hits (D.R.A.M., French Montana) as well as R&B veteran the-Dream to serve as Dave 1’s counterparts. But this feels like a 2018-music-industry requirement rather than a creative imperative; it’s strange when Chromeo and Maroon 5, who come from vastly different worlds, are making similar A&R decisions.
Still, that’s not to say there aren’t glorious passages on Head Over Heels. Listen to the long, climbing curve in the second round of backing vocals during the chorus of “Right Back Home to You;” the shimmering, too-brief melodic interlude in “Count Me Out,” which is so rich it could serve as the basis for another song entirely; or the groove on “Slumming It,” which is an impeccable riff on Chemise’s “She Can’t Love You.” But these moments are fleeting, and there aren’t enough of them to make you fall head over heels for this album.