When I first heard trance I quite liked it. Then, about five minutes later, the charm wore off when the next song kicked in and I realized “hey, this one sounds just like the last one…” To say that trance is formulaic would be an insult to music which is legitimately formulaic. The Ramones followed a rigid formula, after all, but it wasn’t one that ever got particularly boring. Some of the best pop artists across the whole range of genres create music that could be conceivably referred to as formulaic without any real pejorative connotations. No, the problem with trance is that in addition to being formulaic and repetitive, it is also just damned boring.
I don’t hear a lot of trance music these days. I can’t remember the last time I bought a trance CD (probably before the turn of the century), and whenever the latest Tiesto opus shows up in the mail its something of a craps shoot whether or not it will even get a cursory pity listen before being tossed into storage, never to be seen again. I say this not out of some fatuous desire to flaunt my anti-trance credentials: no, while I dislike the genre I hardly relish having to turn in a hatchet-job to my editor. My ears were open when I popped Passport: Kingdom of the Netherlands into my CD player. It just so happened that what came out of the speakers was frightfully dull.
The reason I found myself reviewing the disc in the first place is that I was quite curious as to just what the supposed “Dutch” trance sound was going to sound like. It’s not as if Corsten is an underground presence: along with the aforementioned Tiesto and Armin van Buuren, these Dutch DJs play some of the most popular dance music in the world in front of some of the biggest crowds in dance history. Their names continually show up at or near the top of every fan poll across the dance music industry. But really, the “Dutch” trance sound of 2005 could easily have been the British trance sound of 1995. This is the electronic music equivalent of one of those rock bands that goes around to bars and state fairs playing all the songs that were popular 10 or 20 years ago, with no concessions made to changing tastes or regrettable fashion. There will always be someone willing to pay for the privilege of swaying drunkenly to “Smoke on the Water”, same as there will seemingly always be someone to wave their glowsticks in the air during the epic breakdowns in Corsten’s “Sublime”.
And I know the music has its fans. Really, I don’t need the endless letters accusing me of apostasy because I don’t get the deep spiritual vibe of Misja Helsloot’s “Blue Monkey” (great name for a poor track). This is aggressively uninteresting because, while the production and arrangements are never less than competent throughout, it is both repetitive and simple-minded. Sometimes simplicity can be blissful, but when it’s clear that the artists in question don’t have an original idea in their heads, the results can be somewhat less than inspiring. I’ve heard this before, you’ve heard this before, we’ve all heard this before.
At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, I really think that the kids plunking down their hard-earned money for CDs like this would be better served by exploring something with a bit more heft to it. This is frothy and shallow, the electronic equivalent of Britney Spears, without even the dubious charm imparted by some of Ms. Spears’ more adventurous producers. If you really want to hear something that induces altered states of consciousness through trance-like repetition and waves of otherworldly noise, but which doesn’t make you feel stupider with every passing second, check out Can’s Tago Mago or My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless—two rock records that would certainly get the thumbs-up from any chemically-enhanced raver in the land. Try some Plastikman—Consumed is especially mind-expanding. Try the recent 10th Anniversary rerelease of Sasha & Digweed’s first Renaissance mix. Hell, try Underworld—any Underworld. They’re actually quite similar to trance, except for the fact that they are never less than interesting, and are often sublime.
Just, for God’s sake, don’t buy another Ferry Corsten mix. It will only encourage him.