Available on: Island LP
Having spent the last year being styled as forerunners in a new wave of British pop, AlunaGeorge are often figured alongside Sampha and Jessie Ware in their poised, post-teen love affair with ’90s R&B. Last years You Know You Like It EP saw the duo experiment with the genre’s back-and-forth of underhand sexual tension, and got to work setting the tone for debut album Body Music. With various award nominations preceding it, and considering the international focus on the current crop of British pop artists experimenting with R&B and house, Body Music comes fairly loaded with expectations of a chart breakthrough and readily identifiable sound.
Time will tell if it will bear future hits, but Body Music is a largely un-involving listen whose coy half-smile already shows signs of strain. The album rests on the neatly balanced relationship of the duo’s finer qualities and though Aluna’s vocals and George’s production create a seamless sense of duality, it feels stifled by too narrow a focus. What Body Music achieves in stylistic uniformity it lacks in surprise: rendering Aluna’s vocals predictable and almost grating by the albums latter stages, and George’s supporting role at best a suitable accompaniment, and at worst forgettable.
It’s not that there’s dips in Body Music – dips would imply variation or risk. The album peaks too early as the three previously released singles – ‘You Know You Like It’, ‘Attracting Flies’ and ‘Your Drums’ – run consecutively after pretty, ballad-lite standout ‘Outlines’. This leaves an initial burst of energy to wobble off into an unsteady meander without ever really regaining the same sense of pace and comparative range. Stylistically, much is made of the duo’s love for Timbaland and the Neptunes, but any references to their ground-breaking idiosyncrasies are either too muted to be heard, or Aluna’s voice edges too close to flat to portray the kind of enigmatic sensuality that so often accompanied them.
The vocal delivery and allusive lyrics on ‘Diver’ are perhaps the closest Body Music gets to the kind of Aaliyah-style slow jam they’re presumably aiming for, but it’s by and large an exception. The album’s title track hosts possibly the most boring hook of 2013 with “Your body is like music baby, I wanna play it again”, Aluna’s chit-chat delivery sounding like a discarded Lily Allen b-side. It’s bittersweet that one of the album’s better tracks is a cover of Montell Jordan’s kitchen party karaoke classic ‘This Is How We Do It’, as if the era they loosely allude to throughout has to be adopted wholesale in order to inject some energy into it all. For an album with a distinct lack of bass the depth of production on ‘This Is How We Do It’ is a welcome divergence, and Aluna’s limited vocal range gets a more demanding outing.
When you think of their immediate peers, it’s clear that this recent school of British pop is more than capable of delivering well rounded debuts. Jessie Ware’s Devotion is centred around a singular, distinctive female voice that is as much indebted to millennial R&B as Aluna’s, yet is given range by a variety of outside production credits. Disclosure’s Settle may be one of the most contested albums of the year so far, but their house-goes-pop formula makes no bones about its ambition. Disclosure recruited a variety of singers to create some semblance of range in the track list and have a clear sense of purpose in aiming their music at a club audience, so the chart success of Settle easily fulfils these aims. Comparatively, Body Music lacks both the pace and range required to sustain repeated listens, and rests too heavily on one – and even two – year old singles to bolster its overall quality.