Popular music, much like popular culture, has always been burdened with an unhealthy addiction to the past. Some of the most popular records of the decades have been wholly derivative, but whereas artists like Solange and Childish Gambino brought us tasteful and reasonably refreshing takes in their respected genres, Jean Tonique’s debut album ‘Well Mannered Frivolity’ is not that. It is simply a rip-off of artists who cut their very trades as rip-offs (albeit good ones) in the first place.
Well Mannered Frivolity would like to come off as kitsch and charming, as is evident from its title. However the record comes off as opposite; tediously dull and unimaginative. Every track on the album seems hell bent on homaging 80s electro-funk and 90s G-funk, but in the least lateral way; this retro-chic aesthetic has been done time and time again by artists like Daft Punk and Chromeo, and perhaps loosely by LCD Soundsystem. All of these crafted a somewhat unique sound which is infinitely more frivolous than Tonique’s record.
Jean’s retro production isn’t the worst thing about the record, every single feature on the record falls flat on its face; Keyone Starr’s indistinguishable vocal performances on ‘Grooving Star’ and ‘Something to Talk About’ as well as Ciscero’s lifeless flow on ‘This Feeling’ add nothing to the said tracks.
Although it’s hard not to wince every time Tonique comes to center stage with his ‘playful’ use of the vocoder, the track’s closer takes the cringe biscuit. It’s a pseudo-deep sub-Bon Iver ballad, and the most insufferable song I’ve heard this year (closely edging out ‘Feeling Better Now’, coincidentally the 4th track on this album).
The record shows flashes of quirky production, but ultimately these moments are washed out with the pure pristine nature of it. It genuinely feels ridiculous that Well Mannered Frivolity exists in 2018. In 6 words (and a further five in brackets): soulless funk for H&M’s PA system (New Look at a push).
Words by Aimee Armstrong