Given the cyclical nature of contemporary popular music, it’s little surprise that the now 75-year-old Giorgio Moroder is experiencing something of a career renaissance. Massively influential during the 1970s with his proto-disco albums and production work for the likes of Donna Summer, Moroder’s sound has managed to find new life in a number of retro-minded musicians mining the depths of pop music’s history. Afforded new life thanks to innumerable name checks and a prominent appearance on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, Moroder now possesses a certain amount of cultural cache.
By titling his highly anticipated new release Déjà Vu, Moroder alludes to this circularity. But rather than a true return to form or revisiting of the sounds on which he made a name for himself, the album finds the septuagenarian looking to merge his trademark burbling synth arpeggiations with the pummeling beats of contemporary EDM. It’s a clear attempt to tap into the zeitgeist and one that doesn’t always pan out.
While the production throughout Déjà Vu is largely impeccable and the arrangements tight and funky, several of the pairings simply do not work. Not surprisingly, it’s the aging pop stars who seem to have the hardest time adjusting. When an aging artist strives for continued relevance within a medium that is quickly leaving them behind, the best move is to pair themselves with someone very much of the moment. Moroder mastered this in the ‘70s with his seminal work with Donna Summer and seems to still largely possess a keen eye for some of the hottest talent on the contemporary dance pop scene.
The choices of Charli XCX, Kelis, Foxes, and Sia all make perfect sense given the current relevance of each. Less so Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue. With the former delivering a phoned in version of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” and the latter getting lost in the mix on “Right Here, Right Now,” these particular pairings can’t help but feel like Moroder’s attempt at rewriting history, working with a pair of artists whose relevance came during a time when Moroder himself had largely been forgotten.
Utilizing younger, more contemporary artists he manages to tap into the zeitgeist and extend his relevance revival just that much longer. Unfortunately, neither Spears nor Minogue are at the top of their games at this point and their inclusion feels more like Moroder attempting to make up for missed opportunities, the pair being a natural fit for his sound during their respective career heydays, than anything else. It’s an odd move given the very of-the-moment nature of Déjà Vu as a whole.
Where before Moroder was largely at the vanguard of dance music, crafting hooks and stylistic flourishes that would become hallmarks of the genre, here he finds himself looking to play catch up with a contemporary scene more focused on pummeling repetition than subtle nuance. The string and synth arrangements on “Don’t Let Go” are at direct odds with the pounding beat and somewhat generic vocals from Mikky Ekko. While his intention of infusing contemporary styles with his own trademark sounds makes sense, it does not always work out.
In a style as mechanically precise as EDM, even the slightest deviation from the beat becomes glaringly obvious. Which makes one question the inclusion of the sporadically arrhythmic high hat throughout “La Disco.” Most distracting within the track’s opening moments as it pushes and pulls against the established tempo, its presence makes one question Moroder’s ear and overall sense of rhythmic awareness. The precision of all other instruments on the track makes the high hat’s rhythmic incongruity all the more bizarre.
Only Kelis’ raspy, urgent vocals on “Back And Forth” seem a genuine update of the sound for which Moroder made a name for himself, most notably his collaborations with Donna Summer. A simple four-on-the-floor disco beat is perfectly melded with all the trappings of contemporary EDM, creating a mixture of the two that feels like a logical extension of Moroder’s early work, an acknowledgement of his influence on contemporary dance music and vice versa.
When an artist like Moroder becomes well known for a specific sound and style it can be difficult to resist the urge to be self-referential when looking to reestablish relevance long after the decline of their career arc. Existing fans will come to expect some acknowledgement of past triumphs while still looking to have the music furthered in some manner, whereas new fans will be looking for something along the lines of the artist’s most recent forays into cultural relevance.
For the former, both “Wildstar” and “74 Is The New 24” feature synth lines similar to those of Moroder’s iconic “The Chase” from Midnight Express, teased almost to the point of sounding as though they were lifted directly from the original recordings. Similarly, a number of these tracks carry traces of Random Access Memories’s stuttering funk and fluid production (“Tempted” and the title track chiefly among these). But in looking to merge the two, something is lost in translation, resulting in an album that sounds more like a collection of Moroder-influenced remixes than that of a cohesive whole from the man himself.
Rightly celebrated as an innovator and massive influence on decades of dance music, Déjà Vu, while not quite the triumph Giorgio Moroder perhaps envisioned, adequately shows the link between the music’s past and present, largely succeeding on the strength of the rhythm alone. Regardless of the overall quality, it’s nearly impossible to resist the urge to dance. And in that, Déjà Vu succeeds.