Colette occupies a unique position in the world of dance music. Growing up in Chicago as the house music scene was well into its stride, she learned the tools of the trade first-hand from nationally recognized DJs. Classically-trained in opera singing, she was one of the first DJs to add their own vocals to the music they were spinning. There aren’t a lot of truly famous, accomplished female DJs, but add Colette’s voice and sex-kitten good looks to the mix, and it’s no wonder she draws a lot of attention.
Push, Colette’s second true solo album following 2005’s Hypnotized, shows that most of that attention is warranted. Though it’s hardly a departure from her signature sound, it’s full of sharp, sometimes sassy, always danceable and well-produced dance pop. This time around, Om records labelmate Chuck Love is the primary musician and producer, and Push clearly bears his aural signature. It’s smooth, funky, not afraid of a variety of beats and styles, and sometimes a little too gussied up.
You sense that Colette and her label could be making a more deliberate push toward the mainstream, and you couldn’t blame them. She has all the ingredients save the internationally published mug shot and tabloid saga, and she co-writes most of her own music as well. If “electronica” is the refuge of female pop stars with nowhere else to go as evidenced by Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, and Madonna among others, the genre is Colette’s prerogative rather than a default. She’s a natural because it’s what she does, not a sound that’s been wrapped around her. That confidence and credibility really make the difference. Otherwise Push doesn’t sound too different from Colette’s more chart-friendly peers.
Certainly, Push has the hooks and attitude necessary to spin off a string of pop hits. The first single, “About Us”, has an up-tempo electro-house rhythm and catchy tell-off chorus that would be equally hard to resist on the radio and on the dance floor. Several other tracks follow in the same up-tempo vein, and although the choruses of “If” and “Call it Out” are pretty catchy, they sounds a bit manufactured compared to “About Us”.
Frontloading Push with these dance-pop tracks may be a deliberate attempt to split the difference between fans of Colette’s DJ work and those who first heard her on the Devil Wears Prada movie soundtrack. As the album moves along, it does become more varied if no less radio-friendly. “Funny” is a surprisingly successful slab of chunky, glittering hip-hop with a likeably lame rap from Om signee Black Spade. There are also a few less-successful forays into R&B. The jazzy, new jack style of “Get You Over” comes across like Janet Jackson circa 1988, but it’s too cute for its own good. At least the minimalism of “Dance With You” takes a step in the direction of abstraction.
It’s not surprising that an artist who got her start and still earns most of her fans and respect from behind the decks sounds best when producing more straight-up dance music. Yes, “Think You Want It” has a great chorus, but it’s lean and mean and focused squarely on the dance floor. Likewise “Tonight”, which more closely mirrors Colette’s DJ style by relegating the vocals to less prominent, improvised-sounding status. The trio of remixes concludes the album in haphazard fashion. The reprise of “Funny”, titled “Every Word”, is pretty, but Love remakes “About Us” into a second-rate New Order track. Finally, there’s the matter of Colette’s much-talked-about singing voice. Classical training or not, if it weren’t for all those sugary melodies it delivers, it would be more of a liability than a boon. True, Colette can hit the notes. But her girlish, nasal tone is no less thin than those of Britney, Madonna, and the like. At her best, she sounds like Olivia Newton John.
Colette has been eschewing her usual turntables for a live band lately. Is she branching out, or reaching out to the mainstream? From its cover shot to what’s inside, Push suggests that her sights reach beyond small, sweaty clubs and spinning vinyl.