Is anybody nostalgic for the early ‘90s yet? Specifically, is anybody nostalgic for the tepid R&B jams of those early ‘90s that graced the radio at every turn, imparting upon an unsuspecting listening public such classic nuggets as Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up” and the entire career of Gerardo? Here’s what 33Hz sounds like: Take Prince—not the Prince of Purple Rain, but the Prince of Graffiti Bridge and Diamonds and Pearls—and sap him of everything that makes him interesting. Raunchy sex appeal? Gone. Instrumental virtuosity? Gone. Innate sense of the soul and groove of a song? Gone. All that’s left is a shell of a vocalist with a smooth falsetto and some really, really awful clichéd ‘90s synth-R&B. Is there any doubt that the voice is impressive? No. But there was so much more to the man than his falsetto and his inflections, a fact that would seem to have all but escaped this pale imitation of a Prince cover band.
The self-titled debut from 33Hz is one of those albums that’s best forgotten the instant it has ended. It’s tough to figure out what the point of this album could possibly be. Are primary members Tim Wagner and Rafe Terrizzi really serious about what they’re doing here? Do they just want to pack the dancefloor, have a good time, and get everyone to wave their hands in the air (like they just don’t care)? Every bit of press 33Hz has gotten thus far would seem to indicate that this is so, but it all feels like a cruel joke in execution. Is there irony involved here? Am I missing some sort of deeper statement? Did the band toss off a song that sounded like a bad Prince cover at a gig once, get a tremendous crowd reaction, and then shift their focus to things that sound like cheap ‘70s soul knockoffs with early ‘90s beats? These are the questions that plague me while listening to 33Hz.
Now, modern club music is so dumbed down anyway that any band whose sole focus is booty shakin’ is bound to score a hit with something. Sure enough, there are two tolerable songs on 33Hz that, if the planets align just so, will yield the band some club play on the remember-when circuit. “Digital Lover” is cheesy but kind of infectious, sporting a straightforward beat complete with handclaps and a catchy chorus. Goofy vocoder effects help the mood, and falsetto blasts that sound uncomfortably close to those that Beck emotes in the classic “Debra” are sure to elicit some laughs. On the other side of the spectrum is the surprisingly solid “Lovely”, which features some perfect, slithery vocal harmonies and a bassline to die for. Were it not for more of those insistent Prince similarities, “Lovely” would be a huge hit in waiting. Lyrics like “Girl, won’t you please show me more so my burning will soon be relieved?” don’t help matters.
Of course, it’s not really about the lyrics, it’s about the sound, it’s about dancing ‘til the sun comes up (and thank goodness for that, given that the lyrics never stray from banal proclamations having to do with girls, parties, and girls at parties). Unfortunately, I have not met the human being that will want to have anything to do with the too-slow-for-dancing (not to mention painfully derivative) opener “If You Want Me”. On the other hand, if dancing to the tracks George Michael rejected when he was with Wham! is your thing, something like the siren-laden “Hot Flashes” will be right up your alley.
This is getting redundant. 33Hz’s self-titled debut is not really for Prince fans, even though it sounds like Prince—anyone with a deep respect for the Dirty Mind will be disgusted by the pale imitation on display here. It’s not really for dance fans, because you can’t always dance to it (and the slow jams, such as the flaccid “I Know”, are really, really terrible). In fact, I don’t know who this album is for.
So I’ll take a wild guess, and say “nobody”.
// Notes from the Road
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