The boy band craze of the late nineties seemed a little indecent to me. The songs of groups NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and 110 Degrees were bad mergers of romantic pop ballads and rap, mixed with some nifty dance moves. It was all meant to impress the mass of pubescent girls getting ready to find their dream mates. Fortunately, the trend didn’t last too long.
In Europe, cute boy (and girl) bands have been the rage for decades. How else can one explain the eternal popularity of pseudo artists Samantha Fox and Kylie Minogue, and their homogenized vocals, so heavily overlaid in the studio? The tradition of Europa cuties continues with Tahiti 80, a highly stylized band of French poseurs looking to steal the crown from soul kings of American Motown.
Their album, Fosbury, is a sweet, glitzy affair featuring Xavier Boyer on vocals, guitars, piano and keyboards, Sylvain Marchand on drums, percussion and keyboards, Mederic Gontier on guitars and backing vocals, and Pedro Resende on bass, keys, and programming. Now, if you’ve never heard original soul as done by myriad black artists in the fifties and sixties, you might think this a fabulous album.
Indeed, unlike a lot of cutie bands, the guys in Tahiti 80 have some fairly good chops, and crooner Boyer has obviously done his homework — having listened to Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding, and Marvin Gaye among other superstars. But as fine a work as Fosbury is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the raw power of the Motown sound.
Frankly, Tahiti 80 is just too damned white for their own good. The songs on Fosbury are slickly produced and coated with an elegant sheen of admiration for the music the band tries to reproduce. But Fosbury has little soul to offer. The sexual edge of original soul is replaced with a hesitant, adolescent romanticism more reminiscent of the bubblegum years of Justin Timberlake then Ray Charles.
Not that white boys can’t get down. Elvis made his reputation with the rippling sensuality of rhythm and blues, and much of the catalogue from British invasion groups feature wildly passionate vocals backed with a hardcore horn section and blues-based guitar chording, a legacy from forties chicken shack music. So if those honkies could get with the unbridled sexuality of soul, why can’t Tahiti 80? I suspect that Fosbury is a product of the times we’re living in, where sexuality is considered "course," and is something only to be hinted at when it comes to young people.
Sadly, that makes the soul influence on Fosbury derivative and the album an unjust example of this amazing musical style. However, if you don’t care about any of that, if you just want good clean pop with a tinge of soul, Fosbury is the album for you. For all of its faults, it showcases some great musicianship from the band and has a certain charm to it.
But let’s not call this soul, eh?