Photo Credit: Lauretta Suter
A decade or so ago, you couldn’t flick between radio stations without catching half-a-dozen inescapable hits from DJs – be it Calvin Harris’s “We Found Love”, Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” or Naughty Boy’s “La La La.” With those hit-makers now all years removed from their last chart-toppers, Reading’s Sam “SG” Lewis is attempting to step in and fill the void with his tasteful and clearly sincere brand of dance music.
Lewis’ newest LP, AudioLust & HigherLove, begins with an 82-second, wordless introduction – an intriguing mixture of swirling synths interrupted by harsh drum fills. The track is largely superfluous, but what’s important about it is what it signals – this is not your usual British DJ-EDM-Top 40-bait album. This is a sophisticated, respectable, musically adventurous LP. The following “Infatuation” largely follows through on the intro’s promise – though it lacks the great hook that the best dance songs do, the shimmering synths and gradual crescendo make it hard not to admire and enjoy. It proves Lewis to be a well-read study of both his hit-maker predecessors (Harris, Guetta, Ronson) and of the last decade’s most acclaimed synth-pop acts (Tame Impala and Chvrches among them).
It’s frustrating, then, that so much of AudioLust’s remainder is unmemorable and rote. “Holding On” desperately tries to up the stakes of the music, with lyrics pertaining to temptation and final chances, but the inoffensive grooves of the music necessitate that it fades into the background. On “Call On Me” Lewis reunites with Tove Lo – whose 2014 hit “Habits” paved the way for mainstream pop music that was more interesting, edgy, and emotionally honest. But here he subsumes her voice into a maximalist, club pallet that forces her to oversing just to remain at the center of the song’s mix.
There are flashes of a better, more interesting, more subversive album across AudioLust’s exhaustive hour-long runtime, but they are only ever flashes. A Pink Floyd-esque guitar solo opens up in the middle of “Infatuation” hinting at a thrilling, second-half switch-up, but before one can get too excited, the solo ends and the song reverts back to its tried-and-true formula. When Channel Tres enters the mix on “Fever Dreamer” with his soulful croon, as he sings of the precarious ecstasy of a drunk night out, it finally feels as though the music has real, tangible emotional stakes. But the mindless repetitions of the titular phrase in the chorus, delivered by a bored-sounding Charlotte Day Wilson, are a reminder of creative inspiration in short supply. “Oh Laura,” meanwhile, would be more straightforwardly enjoyable if it wasn’t so obviously a The 1975 rip-off in every way imaginable (even down to its title).
AudioLust’s various half-measures are so frustrating because they come from a creator who has proven he is capable of more. Lewis co-produced Dua Lipa’s indelible “Hallucinate,” whose chorus still rattles around my head three years later. He also sole-produced the song “Hot n Heavy” from the deluxe edition of Jessie Ware’s disco magnum opus What’s Your Pleasure? Both those songs sparked joy by looking to the ecstasy of the ’80s and committing fully to it. AudioLust & HigherLove could do with the odd retro moment, instead of staying stuck in the decidedly modern, inoffensive, background music, Spotify-playlist-core lane that it currently exists within.
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