Tiësto’s new record, pointedly titled A Town Called Paradise, forces me into uneasy confrontation with my own long-standing, complicated love for cheesy European synth pop, disco, and vocal trance. European synth pop like Erasure, Alphaville, and A-Ha have owned a very special place in my heart since childhood; indeed, Erasure’s the Innocents was the first record I ever bought with my own money. Italo disco acts like Ken Lazlo and Savage, as well as revival acts like Sally Shapiro, make me very, very happy indeed. In a more ‘guilty pleasure’ sort of way, I also retain an abiding love for seriously cheesy ‘90s vocal trance like Alice Deejay, Sylver, and Fragma.
With all of this in mind, I am not sure that I support or really believe in the whole idea of something being a guilty pleasure. What do we mean by this phrase? That most of the abovementioned groups are deeply, extravagantly uncool is a fairly obvious truism, but it does not say much about why I really, sincerely like these groups or the kinds of pleasures they give me. The truth is that these groups somehow articulate a fantasy of an impossibly exotic, profoundly attractive vision of Western Europe in the 1980s and early 1990s for me. This music taps into a totally unrealistic imaginary sound space that I constructed in my mind during my childhood and adolescence that posited Western Europe as a perfect, hypermodern space in stark opposition to the drab, rural, tediously realistic America I grew up with. This fantasy and my relationship to these bands has nothing to do with what Western Europe is, or was, really like, and everything to do with how I imagined it to be. A Town Called Paradise occasionally taps into this fantasy, but more often drags the fantasy kicking and screaming into the harsh light of the present, with the rise of EDM as a major force in mainstream American popular music, and the attendant commercialization that that entails.
Most of the material on A Town Called Paradise sounds like a Pepsi commercial. Indeed, the video for the first single “Red Lights” looks and feels like a soda commercial from the beginning, and literally turns into a Jägermeister commercial near the end. The single is catchy and likable, but it is also vapid and forgettable. The video features the staggeringly unimaginative scenario of two beautiful young women “gone wild” together, leaving their day jobs and cares behind in a frenzy of clothing removal, Jägermeister shots, and clubbing. If “Red Lights”, and the entirety of A Town Called Paradise, sounds like a commercial, it is because that is exactly what it is.
Tiësto has apparently embarked on a 20-month residency at the Hakkasan Las Vegas Restaurant and Nightclub and Wet Republic pool at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in everyone’s favorite postmodern hellscape, Las Vegas, Nevada. After learning this information it, is impossible to read the title A Town Called Paradise, and the music therein, as anything but a commercial pitch for Tiësto’s new gig. After numerous listens to A Town Called Paradise, I feel a bit like I have been inhaling the fumes from burning plastic or like I have been watching too much reality TV.
Although the differences between Tiësto’s A Town Called Paradise and the Euro pop, disco, house, and trance music that I love may be subtle, there is an soulful innocence about the acts I mention earlier that is totally lacking in A Town Called Paradise. This feels like music for people who honestly and unironically look up to people like Paris Hilton or the Kardashians. This is music specifically designed to sell an idea of getting trashed at some sleazy Las Vegas resort, and it makes me feel kind of gross.