x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

CSS's latest album proves less than sexy

While thoroughly listenable, this Brazilian band's latest offering doesn't see them return to their former glory.

CSS
Sub Pop
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How times change in the fickle music industry.

Just five years ago, Brazilian lo-fi electro-rockers CSS (Cansei de Ser Sexy - Portuguese for "tired of being sexy") were the toast of the cool crowd. Their first album packaged guitars, synths, bleeps and beats together with cheeky lyrics lampooning pop and celebrity culture into a sound that had numerous corners of the musical spectrum praising their innovation.

Dictionary-breaking lead singer Lovefoxxx (not her real name), often seen sporting face paint and a multicoloured leotard, was instantly hailed as the Queen of Cool, with magazines such as Dazed & Confused clamouring to have her adorn their covers. Her relationship with Simon Taylor-Davis of the Klaxons was a marriage made in hipster heaven.

Then came the band's 2008 follow up, Donkey. While it wasn't exactly awful, it did reek somewhat of tiredness from excessive touring and failed to capture that magical sparkle of the first. It also - shudder - ventured too far into pop-like territories to be considered satirical. And now, three years on, in which time we've seen the Klaxons fall dramatically from grace with their unspectacular follow up to Myths of the Near Future, comes CSS's third album, La Liberación.

Unfortunately for CSS, the sound they so triumphantly pioneered half a decade ago has done the dirty and gone mainstream, with the likes of Ke$ha and Katy Perry taking it to the top of the charts. And as such, the new album doesn't attempt to break any ground but maintain the band's ice-cool edge that was once their calling card. To this end, reggae, a few piano tinkles and the odd splash of afrobeat have been thrown into the mix.

While thoroughly listenable, it sadly doesn't see them return to their former glory.

It's not bad, however. Hits Me Like a Rock, featuring Bobby Gillespie, is a quirky slice of calypso-meets-electro that should soundtrack many a pool party. The raw synths of City Grrl could easily have found a place in the first album, Lovefoxxx's vocals blending unusually well with a muffled trumpet. The fast-paced Echo of Love is CSS's venture into the Afro-pop party, with frantic upbeat drums and "whoa whoas" alongside some cheery guitar chords. Despite sounding somewhat cheese-laden, they manage to pull it off.

But the rest of the album, sadly, just doesn't hit the high notes. There are no instantly singalong lyrics, no frantic Portuguese shout-outs like in the superb Superafim and no references to activities undertaken while listening to Death From Above. One expletive-laden track towards the end even feels excruciatingly forced.

Just as the Klaxons found that their time was finite, destined to represent a particular era in the ever-changing landscape of musical tastes, so have CSS. La Liberación isn't a terrible album, but - aside from a few pleasing tracks - it leaves the sour taste of someone trying to remain relevant and keep up with the pace they once set.

As their name suggests, perhaps CSS are just too tired of being sexy.