Published on November 1st, 2013 | by Dave Scaddan0
Cut Copy – Free Your Mind
As the needle drops on the first side of Cut Copy’s fourth album, a deep, distorted voice echoes from obscurity to clarity, chanting, “Free your mind.” Okay, then. This mantra is actually good advice for Cut Copy’s growing fan base, because this record is not what anyone who’s enjoyed their music could have expected or anticipated. Dan Whitford’s mission with this record seems to be guided (or misguided) by a throwback style that is, if nothing else, bold. ‘Free Your Mind’ is pure homage to the dance music of the early nineties, from the house beats to the chirping vocal sampling. Somehow, one of the most capable synth pop artists of the last ten years, a group who have always kept their craft just simple enough to retain their charm, have decided to produce a loaded, complicated, break beat and sample-laden album, leaning heavily on a scene that may have expired twenty-odd years ago because it had done all there was to do.
Cut Copy really wants us to know how trippy their sound is now. Exhibit A: the album cover art. Seriously? This Helvetican wave glow is only worth mentioning because it actually sums up the music inside the sleeve quite aptly; it is derivative, shiny, unimaginative, emotionless, and cliched. That’s not to say that ‘Free Your Mind’ doesn’t hit a friendly groove every so often, but there are several grating moments in this record that make one wonder, why?
Why turn great pop into decent house? Why mash the Madchester vibe into the listeners’ heads with goofy spoken word samples between songs, saying things like, “this information is crystallizing into your mind?” Why select keyboard riffs that last found a home in the musical annals of C + C Music Factory? Why sing choruses like, “You’ve got to reach the sky if you want your light to shine (repeat)” as if the very premise behind writing these words was to sound as inanely inspirational as possible?
If we want an album to dance happily to, we have many greats to choose from, including Cut Copy’s previous three albums, where electronic pop is presented with a rarely attained perfection — never too serious, never too slack, never too clever, never too dumb. When Whitford sang the words, “When I’m lookin’ for you / I call your number and I can’t get through,” on Cut Copy’s first album, ‘Bright Like Neon Love,’ we were certainly not moved by the lyrical depth, but we knew he wasn’t reaching for much more than a cute hook that was simple enough to be charming. Now that the lyrics sound like they’re meant to school the listener on some long-dead new age love vibe, ambition is in high gear while creative chops are still idling. When told to, “Just keep holding on to love” partway through ‘Free Your Mind,’ it’s a command we may not feel compelled to obey, not because it’s bad advice, but just because it sounds so lame.
We can’t accuse Cut Copy of going stale, but accusing them of going crazy might make sense. At the core of ‘Free Your Mind’ (I hate even having to type the title) there are some truly catchy tracks and some rare moments when the lyrics don’t make the head shake from side to side when it should be nodding up and down. Taken a track at a time, these tunes might well brighten up a drive or a stroll or a dance floor or a bus ride. It’s really the gimmickry employed that chafes over the course of the album. Producing this record as The Stone Roses or The Happy Mondays might have doesn’t flop because the concept is wrong, it flops because the execution flounders. This record can’t transport us to some long-forgotten party because it isn’t smart enough or dumb enough. ‘Free Your Mind’ (grrrr) just limbos between unhinged club fun and hippy sermons until pining nostalgia is the strongest reaction it can get. The nostalgia is not for that time we blasted 808 State and then The Orb at a basement party, it’s for the time when Cut Copy made great pop records, a time we hope we can return to soon.