Head Over Heels is maddeningly catchy and no party this summer is complete without it.
In a 2016 interview electro-funk revivalists Chromeo were asked if there’s a checklist for nearly-completed songs to ensure they contain “certain elements”. The duo—comprised of David Macklovitch (a.k.a. Dave 1) and Patrick Gemayel (a.k.a. P-Thugg)—argued that they combine the highbrow and the lowbrow to make sure a song is finished to their standards. “We need something for the nerds, like highbrow music – referential dork shit,” explained Gemayel, “and then lowbrow enough for everybody to like it, even if you don’t understand music or theory.”
This juxtaposition results in brilliance like “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)”: You get the highbrow from the way Macklovitch’s vocals dart around the production during the verses and the complementary layers of synths in the chorus, and you get the lowbrow from the candy-coated guitar hook and that massive earworm of a chorus. “Jealous” was the lead single from Chromeo’s fourth full-length, White Women, a work that leaned towards highbrow and felt like their bid for the kind of capital-A Album that critics write anniversary pieces about. And apart from some mid-record lethargy, it certainly could be.
Their follow-up, Head Over Heels, does not share its predecessor’s aspirations. It lacks proggy indulgence with multiple solos, and it’s 10 minutes shorter, suggesting that the stakes are not legacy-defining this time around. Instead, Head is simply the duo’s strongest collection of disco-infused electro-funk to date. It accomplishes this by rebalancing the scales of high- and lowbrow. The interlocking groove of itchy guitar, slap bass and shimmying synths in “Bad Decision,” for example, is mesmerizing when studied through headphones (highbrow), and also sounds fantastic when blasted through speakers (lowbrow). Meanwhile, album closer “Room Service” offers both in a different way: the highbrow is found in Gemayel’s bass that brilliantly accents the pulsing synths in the chorus, and the lowbrow is found in the song’s attempt to make sexy the idea of a couple ordering food to their room because they’re just gonna stay in and fuck all weekend.
This, of course, isn’t new ground, as they’ve combined sex and absurdity before. And while Macklovitch has discussed girls and relationships on prior works, here he aims a bit higher as a love-drunk fool instead of an air-headed bro. The album’s title suggests as much. He used to call his girl “my Tenderoni” and then follow it up with boorish horniness: “For sure, if I tell you how to do my dance/ Baby, then you’ll let me get in those pants”. Now, he’s “got a one track mind and it’s all on you,” and he’s willing to empty his bank accounts and max out his credit cards to buy his girl (whom he’d just met a week ago) an engagement ring and a Range Rover. Elsewhere, on “Must’ve Been” he compares his infatuation to mind-altering substances (“Your love’s so strong, that’s a hundred proof”), and later suggests that letting go of her is like kicking a habit (“I know I promised I wouldn’t call/ I guess I’m just going through withdrawal”).
It’s not all sunshine and stomach butterflies, though. “Count Me Out” finds Macklovitch backing away from a possible love triangle: “I know that you were free, but I never knew a couple was supposed to be three/ What am I waiting for, another heartbreak? I can’t afford no more”. And “Just Friends” plays out a ‘Ross and Rachel’-style relationship between Macklovitch and newcomer Amber Mark (“We fight every night and day/ And make up for it right away/ This is driving me insane/ But I still love you anyway”), as well as the internal conflict that’s carried along (“I’m dim-witted, deal with it/ You said something slick, I didn’t get it/ And now I wonder if our love is counterfeit”).
But those moments are in the minority. This is Chromeo, after all – the duo that loves bad wordplay (“I’m coming down like a flight of stairs”), and whose songwriting worships cheesy ‘80s everything. In fact, if there was any doubt that they’d ever give up the juvenile silliness they adore so much, look no further than the album cover that seems to reference 2007’s Fancy Footwork. In the latter, two sets of female legs in high heels are used as the stand for their keyboards while Macklovitch and Gemayel pose behind them. In the former, the pair’s own legs (presumably, anyway) are wearing skirts and high heels. Whether that’s a combination of highbrow commentary on gender identity, lowbrow idiocy through a visual pun, both or neither doesn’t matter though. What matters is that Head Over Heels is maddeningly catchy and no party this summer is complete without it.