On their second album, the German duo capture all the elements of classic dance music save one -- human beings.
Swimming Pool's Michael Scheibenreiter and Stefan Schwander were credited with inventing something called "dub'n'bass" on their 2002 debut. Now, having gotten innovation out of the way, they've aspired to Good Old Music on their second disc. Good Old dance music, that is. These guys must have had a very unique upbringing in Düsseldorf, because their idea of timeless fun turns out to be sterile, minimal, softly undulating electronica.
Good Old Music is bizarre in the way it references its influences . The first track is called "Chic Plaza", and it's followed by "Bernard". You can be sure it's not the guy from New Order Scheibenreiter and Schwander are talking about. If you thought Power Station was a strange way to pay homage to Chic, well, this is even stranger. It's true, Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers, Tony Thompson and co. specialized in a super-slick, almost mechanically tight sound. But the songs were so joyful and the rhythm section so funky, that there could be only humans behind it all. Not so with Swimming Pool. They seem to have forgotten that a lot of the fun in dance music comes from the give and take, the juxtaposition between man and machine -- regardless of what Kraftwerk would like everybody to think.
Based on "Chic Plaza", you might actually think that Good Old Music has gotten it right. The classic disco elements -- staccato strings, elastic bass; steady, pulsing rhythm -- are all in place, although they're performed exclusively on synths. Sweet 'n' mellow keyboard chords fill in the open spaces, and for a while there it feels like you've stepped into a none-too-ambitious but completely danceable update of 1978. It's interesting to imagine, though, how the late Edwards might have reacted to the tense, repetitive, downbeat electronica of "Bernard". Quite possibly by yawning.
And so it goes. Simple, downer rhythms that establish themselves after a couple of bars and hardly change ("I'm Thirtyfour"), loopy Giorgio Moroder-meets-Nature-Store meandering ("Last Night..."), stabs at old school electro-house ("The Bilk Madness"), none of which is decisive enough to have much impact. In a late attempt at a comeback, "Carpet Sweeper" establishes the easygoing, effortless momentum that Scheibenreiter and Schwander have been going for all along, and closer "Soul Made Pling" is a nice bit of music box mellowness.
Good-natured album titles and Chic references aside, "hidden" track "Dark Horse Twinkles" might hint at where Swimming Pool's hearts are really at. It's a creepy, distorted trawl through an electronic underbelly that has more to do with Aphex Twin than house or disco. It's more interesting than anything else on Good Old Music, so why hide it? An album's worth of this stuff might be better suited to Swimming Pool, and the title would still apply. Who says Richard D. James never has any fun?