Dominic Peters and David Poole were first introduced to us as two fun-loving surfer types who made jazzy, soulful house music, infused with a number of distinctly African sounds and a wide range of instruments. The two were such proficient musicians, in fact, that it appeared between them there wasn’t a single music-making device they couldn’t handle. 2006’s Caught in the Loop was a groundbreaking debut, full of inventive and catchy singles; ‘The Real Deal’, to this day, is one of the best album openers at least of the last decade. Their experimental and electric live set in particular won over audiences, with Peters and Poole playing their multiple instruments and making full use of the in-vogue looping equipment. Two years later, Perceptions of Pacha marked a departure from that intricate house music and was the first move made toward the Goldfish of today. Embracing, like so many other South African acts, the saxophone and the trumpet as their instruments of choice, they propelled their way into the national consciousness, with single ‘Soundtracks and Comebacks’ soundtracking (it seems they planned it) just about every SuperSport advert for an entire year. The album itself was ridiculously fun, and, at the time, it felt fresh and vibrant. The success of Pacha launched their international career and has since seen them touring all over the world and holding an annual residency at Blue Marlin club in Ibiza, playing the sunset set.
Fourth LP Three Second Memory, released this week on EMI, isn’t completely devoid of positives. The album sounds expensive and well-made. The production is watertight, the musical decisions very considered and when it wants to be loud and big, it certainly is that. ‘Take Back Tomorrow’, which comes near the end of the album, was released as a single six months ago. It builds to a huge prototypical EDM drop that no doubt has gotten many a fist pumping and drink spilled all across Ibiza. It plays as their big push for Tomorrowland, and works as just that. ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ has a decent-enough hook, that while clichéd and derivative as all hell, is at least a little bit head-bob inducing.
The real shame is that if they’d made an entire album of these, it would at least have come across as honest. Anyone who saw their set at Rocking the Daisies in 2012 knows that this is where they see themselves now, up there with the likes of Avicii or Swedish House Mafia. Their hubris, still intact it would seem, is a huge part of their downfall. Their decision to include a remix of jazz-rap group Us3’s smash 1993 hit ‘Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)’ shows their unwillingness to let go of their jazzy roots, their origin story, though it comes across kind of like Clark Kent in an old age home, with us listeners as the tired nurse, sick of him jokingly using his wind-breath power to lift skirts between coughing fits and telling old stories of how he defeated Lex Luther that one time. This is this album’s attempt at jazz and funk, and we know this because they sample the lyric ‘groovy groovy jazzy funky’ a few times, just to re-enforce the idea.
Second single, ‘One Million Views’, is presented as a tongue-in-cheek stab at the global hype machine and DJs that just press buttons and party. The truth is, though, that Goldfish now belong to that crowd, and while they might make much of their music with ‘authentic’ instruments, it’s the synthetic ones that spend most of the time at the forefront. As such, the humour falls flat and it comes across as just a song about a YouTube video going viral. Actual no-bullshit lyrics from it are ‘I’ve got one million views, I’m gonna get some tattoos.’ In case you thought you misheard it, it’s repeated at least, like, ten times (a running theme here). That’s actually not the most ridiculous song title on the album; that award goes to ‘Moonwalk Away’, which is ostensibly named after a New Girl gag. ‘Followers of the Beat’ barely counts as a song, more closely resembling a claustrophobic trip inside Satan’s elevator. It’s an awful brand of knock-off jazz, utterly devoid of any soul or purpose. The beat thrusts along as your feet get trampled on by the sweaty shirtless dude next to you, waiting to get off at the rooftop pool. The saxophones and trumpets that once made their sound so anthemic do show up every now and then, notably on ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and ‘Drive Them Back To Darkness’, but when they do they’re pushed right to the back of the mix. The instrument that survives most is the double bass, which is largely to thank for the old age cigar lounge feel of the album as a whole.
The vocalists that show up do varied jobs at breathing life into this. Emily Bruce is definitely the most compelling of them, and its telling that the two tracks she shows up for near the middle of the album are the first time it shows any hint of life. ‘He’s Crazy’ opens with piano that sounds kind of like Journey and is screaming to be reworked by Glee, and features a chorus that sounds like any top 40 hit from 2009, which isn’t the worst thing one could say about a chorus, but, you know, isn’t the best either. Monique Hellenburg starts out doing her best to save the dull mechanical soul of ‘Giant Leap’, but ends up sounding worn out a minute into the five-minute cut, her bland lyrics doing nothing to help her case. ‘Away Game’ has a hook that sounds like it was constructed specifically with 2am at a Stellenbosch bar in mind, and while ‘Women’s a Devil’ at least offers some Vaudeville-inspired fun, it’s same-y and predictable; one could never blame this iteration of Goldfish for having too many ideas.
It didn’t have to be like this. Almost every South African who grew up in this millennium will have some element of Goldfish embedded in their DNA. And, because of this, every now and then, a moment or a sound will flare up in the mix and wash you with nostalgia. These moments are all the more infuriating for their scarcity. Goldfish are a product now, part of the corporate machine, churning out hits that can hardly even be considered good in the rabidly uncompetitive market they’re playing against. It’s a shame. They really were the ‘Real Deal’ once. But now we can only sit and watch as they ‘Moonwalk Away’.
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