The Ritz Ballroom, Manchester, 02/03/10
By Craig Nelson
When it was rumoured that Groove Armada’s latest album, Black Light, was a homage to the 80s, I feared the worst.
As one of Thatcher’s children, born in 1975, I hated the 80s and I’m finding it pretty hard to stomach all this nostalgia, especially from bands that I love.
The decade was bleak and brash. Dole queues, bloodied minors and riots gave way to arrogant Yuppies, flaunting their wads of cash and silly shoulder pads. This was all played out to a soundtrack of cheesy pop and soft rock, as far as I could tell.
By the time I reached my teens, to be rescued by 808 State, The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses, the 80s were finishing and the once Iron Lady was on her last legs.
Admittedly, I was too young to enjoy the best the 80s had to offer, like the birth of house music and the second summer of love.
And you can forgive young fashion victims like Lady Gaga and Little Boots for being blinded by the crazy costumes and colourful makeup of the New Romantics.
But I figured Groove Armada founders Andy Cato and Tom Findlay would have been above all this.
Musically, there is nothing wrong with going back to your roots, which is what Groove Armada have done with Black Light.
The result is a decent album, heavy on high-pitched synths, reminiscent of Gary Numan’s best work. It is much darker and more dangerous than their sun-kissed blend of house and chill-out tracks found on early albums like Vertigo.
The problem is not the music – the problem is the nostalgia, which suffocates creativity and originality.
Groove Armada launched their new look and sound at the Ritz on Tuesday night.
New lead vocalist SaintSaviour epitomised the faux 80s direction, dressed in a glittery gold jumpsuit and some kind of Five Star shoulder pad combo.
As a big Groove Armada fan, in a Ritz ballroom packed full of Groove Armada fans, this was difficult to watch.
She was waving her arms about like Kate Bush doing an impression of a Thunderbirds puppet and it just didn’t feel right. It felt like she was trying too hard.
At first, the hordes on the balcony – crammed in three deep, craning for a view of the stage – and the sticky bodies on the dancefloor – with hands aloft, mobile phone videos set to record – were willing to let it slide.
But you could feel the energy and enthusiasm slowly fade away with each number.
The set kicked off with Look Me In The Eye Sister, the opening track on Black Light. Writing this, almost all memory of the tune has been wiped out by the sight of SaintSaviour (real name Becky Jones) awkwardly giving it her all. Yet whenever she took a back seat, the electricity and buzz in the audience quickly returned.
The lead singer was safely stood behind a keyboard for a super-charged rendition of Song 4 Mutya, and by the time Red Rat made an appearance for Fogma, all the fans’ pent up energy was suddenly unleashed.
It may be easy, and a little mean, to point the finger at the new vocalist. The truth is that it may just take time for fans to get used to her and the new tracks. Think Bob Dylan at the Free Trade Hall.
She may even help Groove Armada win over a new, younger set of fans. The wild reaction to the new single, Paper Romance, was a promising sign, boosted by an energetic performance from Ben, singer from Fenech Soler.
And when SaintSaviour finally loosened up, minus the shoulder pads and freaky dancing, she gave a great performance of Easy.
But it was left up to Red Rat and Superstylin’ to really give the fans what they wanted.