sun 08/12/2019

CD: Daphne & Celeste - Daphne & Celeste Save the World | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Daphne & Celeste - Daphne & Celeste Save the World

CD: Daphne & Celeste - Daphne & Celeste Save the World

Unexpectedly off-the-wall comeback album from pop girls of yesteryear

Pop stars' pop art

The last we heard of US duo Daphne & Celeste was 18 years ago, when they made their name with three hits, notably the nursery-rhyme playground chant bitch-offs “U.G.L.Y.” and “Ohh Stick You”. They famously performed under a hail of bottles at Reading Festival in 2000, then disappeared, going on to peripheral film-acting careers. Max Tundra, an alt-tronic artist who is released on vanguard labels such as Warp and Domino, now engineers a comeback for this millennial, tween-pop pairing. On paper, this is a great, original idea. Upon listening, it’s partly successful.

Mostly gone is Daphne & Celeste’s bubbly juvenility, although they still emanate shiny glee and sweet harmonies. Instead, Tundra has created a meta-commentary on pop, conceptually similar to what artists such as Scritti Politti and The Associates were doing at the dawn of the 1980s. The music is modernist electro-pop, then, yet often awkwardly so, perhaps deliberately. Songs such as the one-minute title track, the bright-eyed “Sunny Day” and the pared-back “You and I Alone”, are straightforward and lovely, but elsewhere dense lyrics and production push into odder territory.

Having Daphne & Celeste sing lines such as “You extemporise/We’re too busy getting idolised” on the stompy robot-electro of “Taking Notes”, apparently a commentary on 21st-century media, or meditate on the disappearance of a post-acid house pop star on “Whatever Happened to Yazz?”, is intriguing but doesn’t always work musically. Well, not as catchy pop, anyway. And the subject matter veers from the “vascular component” of plant-life on “Song to a Succulent” to an ace takedown of Ed Sheeran and his ilk on “BB” (“Three chords and a minor key/An exercise in mediocrity”!). On extended listening, it’s a surprisingly complex album.

Like Matthew Herbert’s production of Róisín Murphy's debut solo album, Save the World is often more cerebrally interesting than engaging. I was never in danger of falling in love with it, but at its best it boasts a post-modern novelty that’s both bemusing and fascinating.

Overleaf: Watch the video for "You & I Alone" by Daphne & Celeste

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