Cornershop’s stew of Asian folk, British pop and electronica charmed the pants off critics and record buyers alike on 1997’s When I Was Born for the 7th Time. So you’d quite cynically expect the band to pick up where they left off and aim for another trendy Fatboy Slim remix. Well, they haven’t, as least “Cornershop” hasn’t.
Main men Tjinder Singh and Benedict Ayres are back with a “side project” intriguingly labeled Clinton that more fully explores their fascination with funk and disco, only hinted at on the last Cornershop record. Thing is they’re not going for dance floor fodder ala The Bee Gees, but rather attempt to appropriate the political context of minority rights and power issues of the very early disco and funk of James Brown and George Clinton (ah…so that’s where they got the name, not from our infamous president).
But that’s where the trouble begins. Despite an admirable attempt to address class issues and the role of Asians in contemporary British society, the music never quite lives up to its lofty goals. Lacking the hedonistic joy of the rollicking club disco tunes and largely missing the outright soul of funk, Disco and the Halfway to Discontent doesn’t thoroughly sell its political message.
“People Power in the Disco Hour” is clearly meant as the anthem, with its “power to the people” ode (“Disco is the halfway/ To a full discontent/ We’re gonna take this movement down to the streets”), but Singh’s voice doesn’t inspire passion here, nor does the song’s arrangement move much beyond its undeniable catchy but still predictable beats. Cornershop’s repetitive song structures were ideal for the pop/folk/electronica combination when there was richer instrumentation to fill out the sound, but the stripped-down approach only exposes the fault lines of this material, which despite the uniform lyrical excellence, are missing a musical heart and soul.
Still, you have to give Singh and Ayres props for trying something different and not resting on their much-lauded laurels. Broadening the instrumentation and bringing dance elements more to the fore may have made this a great album.