The Groove Armada process is rote by this point. Andy Cato and Tom Findlay act as ringleaders, bringing in their newest coterie of vocalists, then putting them through their paces as they dance across genres and styles. When Cato said in January that MGMT served as a major inspiration for Black Light, it might have been tempting to think that perhaps he had misspoken. After all, Groove Armada has been around for more than a decade, delivering big-beat essentials over that period, from “I See You Baby” to “Song 4 Mutya,” and there seemed to be very little overlap with the neo-psychedelia purveyed by the Wesleyan Brooklynites. On the other hand, Groove Armada has been willing to adapt and change its sound to a fault, so the idea of a more psychedelic groove wouldn’t have been completely impossible to imagine.
To complete the intended effect, the group brought in Nick Littlemore, whose prior involvement with Empire of the Sun offered an Australian tangent to MGMT, albeit one that took the facepaint and the falsettos to a bit of an extreme. On songs like single “Paper Romance,” the group interprets its proclaimed influence in the strictest sense (with just enough Before the Dawn Heals Us-era M83 thrown in). But the MGMT influence is difficult, if not impossible, to perceive on some of the tracks. Instead, the group delivers its consistently darkest album to date, forsaking the bright bounciness of its last entry, Soundboy Rock, for a much more introspective approach. Sure, the group’s tendency toward maximalism is present as always, but the group uses reverb and chorus this time to suggest that it’s all alone and yet still surrounded. It’s as if the band wants to make it clear that you’re not alone at the disco, baby.
The album kicks off with “Look Me in the Eye Sister,” and the Armada proves it still has a right to the groove, with exactly the sort of deep, propulsive rhythm we would expect for a show-opener. The song works itself into a climax, where you can just imagine the spotlights kicking on and blinding you with their intensity. It’s a good feeling. For many of the rest of the songs on the album, the group seems to be looking for that same high, whether it’s the dancing-with-Molly-Ringwald-at-the-end-of-prom of “I Won’t Kneel” or the soulful “Time & Space.” Cato and Findlay bring in the lesser-known Fenech Soler, SaintSaviour, Jess Larrabee, and Will Young to provide further vocals, and all the artists involved seem ready to commit just enough of themselves to the project to make it seem cohesive. Groove Armada embraces synthesized bass lines like they’re going out of style, and there’s not a moment where it doesn’t feel like the group isn’t trying to wring every ounce of emotion out of its buildups and breakdowns. Sure, it’s overwrought, but it’s still great pop.
The only deadspot occurs with “Cards to Your Heart,” which features a ridiculous spoken interlude throwing out laughable pap: “For the real link to enlightenment is forgiveness/ For under the sun we are better and warmer together.” Oh, and there’s that one other vocalist that somebody must have dug out of the Rolodex: some fellow named Bryan Ferry. Actually, bespoke suits and Ferry’s croon never go out of style, so it’s a pleasant surprise to hear him on “Shameless,” which might have been Ferry’s lost contribution to the Blade Runner soundtrack. By this point, it must be a contractual clause for Ferry’s voice to come accompanied by a cooing female’s, but when did it become necessary to phase his voice? A faux pas, indeed.
The album is pure Groove Armada pop at the end, but the decision to be slightly less saccharine means that it’s not nearly as disposable as some previous outings. Next time Cato should just shut up about his influences and let the music stand on its own. In this case, he doesn’t need to be inviting comparisons to anyone else.