One-hit wonders are the most unfortunate byproduct of the pop industry. Either they fade to obscurity, disguise themselves in cult-classic acclaim or, worse yet, use everything but the kitchen sink in pursuit of another radio-ready bop.
British pop duo AlunaGeorge — comprised of lead singer Aluna Francis and George Reid — complicates this longstanding tradition: A “future-pop” curio in the wheelbarrow of Grimes and past collaborator Disclosure, its debut album Body Music married the promise of its title with tight, sinewy songcraft. In an ideal world, the duo’s near-perfect conception of R&B-inflected pop would have broken past the poptimist niches of the internet onto Top 40 radio.
And it did, but with a caveat. In this case, it was a little help from producer DJ Snake. His revamp of “You Know You Like It” broke through American airwaves, topping off in the top 15 on the Billboard charts. In pursuit of floor-filler bass drops, the duo sacrificed the cool-girl swagger of its off-kilter electropop.
AlunaGeorge’s new album I Remember is directly shaped by its sole hit. Each track is preened and primed for radio conquest, as if the band were required to take a crash course on Max Martin and Drake’s in-house producers.
To be fair, the closer AlunaGeorge hews to radio trends, the better it fares. The duo’s comeback single, “I’m in Control,” rides the dancehall wave to its purest essence right down to the guest verse from the patron saint of dancehall crossovers, Popcaan. It works, precisely because it eases into the genre transition without losing any of the band’s appeal. Francis’ voice continues to helm the ship, but the distanced, commanding sing-song that carried the duo’s past work has shifted into an empathic falsetto. (“Mean What I Mean,” on the other hand, does much of the same, but loses the effect with the dull, steely performances from Francis and her supporting cast.)
Opener “Full Swing” is in for the kill — all sharp, searing bass undercurrents and trap-lite production that resembles a watered-down take on TNGHT’s “Goooo.” “Dropping all that deadweight,” Francis sings on the track’s opener. She’s not wrong.
“Not Above Love” is an accomplished send-up of Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love,” even down to the three-word premise of the title. The mimicry isn’t shocking. After all, the tune is co-helmed by Rock Mafia — the duo behind nearly every Disney teen queen’s shift into pop relevance. Rock Mafia is competent, if lackluster, at what it does.
Though he has all but vanished from the band’s promotional material, producer and multi-instrumentalist Reid’s role in AlunaGeorge is vital. He’s the minimal, unkempt foil to Francis’ lovely, swooning voice, swathing her in crisp, brittle production for her to annihilate and triumph.
There are lots of familiar faces in the mix, many of which would probably merit a larger font size on the festival circuit: Featured DJs ZHU and Flume make guest appearances here. “My Blood” is concrete-slow, the polar opposite to Francis’ feature on ZHU’s own “Automatic.” But he doesn’t fare as poorly as Flume: “I Remember” pins Francis as pining, desperate even. EDM balladry is an ill-suited look for AlunaGeorge.
In effect, I Remember suffers from the issue of too many cooks in the kitchen. After all, Body Music was almost exclusively a self-produced effort. I Remember reads like a last-ditch effort to find a cohesive aesthetic for a duo who already had one, and an excellent one at that.
The question remains: Why sacrifice it? Closing track “Wanderlust” is refreshingly out of place, with its snappy minor-key pacing reminiscent of Body Music’s highest highs. Its songwriting is smart, in spite of its pretense hinging solely on the worst buzzword of the millennial generation. Still, if I Remember’s clear standout could be pulled straight out of its old work, then AlunaGeorge is probably better off staying where it was.
The promise of the album, then, is fulfilled.