x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sa Dingding: Harmony

Sa Dingding, we are told, is one of China's biggest stars but her third album sheds no light on why that might be.

AD201010703169986AR
AD201010703169986AR

Sa Dingding, we are told, is one of China's biggest stars but her third album, Harmony, sheds no more light than its predecessors on why that might be. Despite a gleaming production courtesy of Marius de Vries and a good measure of straight-faced lunacy, it is a tedious bit of work. Every track seems to lurch into the same galumphing rhythm, part latter-day Bond theme, part French ethno-trance. Dingding's singing, though admittedly acrobatic, tends to the gooey, breathy, baby-doll style of Cantopop cliché. Her much-publicised use of the traditional instruments and performance styles of her Mongol heritage feels cosmetic. These are precision-engineered 21st-century pop songs, marching to the beat of a ProTools preset. It's disappointing, especially since there are moments of bracing weirdness to taunt the listener with what have been.

Lucky Day opens with the sound of stamping boots before a skronky electric guitar line and chorus of banshees kick in. Then we get a sinister whispered monologue in which Dingding observes: "Seventeen people enter the white building at the same time, and the clock has stopped at nine," before rattling through an existentialist ghost story. Elsewhere, it's the folk textures that evoke a witchy atmosphere - Dingding whoops and gibbers to an accompaniment of acoustic pings and boings and the herniated groans of a throat singer. More of that stuff, please, and fewer undistinguished club mixes.