Spawned out of the Adelaide scene in 2004, The Levitators have popped up again with their third album Eclectica. Self described as “Electro, Funk, and Reggae delivered with a 70’s Rock and Roll attitude” (the latter being fairly debatable, but we’ll take their word on it for now) they’re back armed with more of the same. The early backing of some high rotation on Triple J in 2007 lead to coveted festival appearances at Big Day Out and Parklife to name a few. How does this latest output stack up? The elements of the past successes have remained, so on the strength of that you’d imagine this self produce record to spur them to greater heights.
Kicking off opener “Once Again” is a horns section that seems to feel its way into the track via subdued and hesitant few bars before Sam Morrison’s unfortunately Americanised vocals take over. The lyrics do bring you along for a while with their quizzical nature only to be swallowed up in a chest-beating, horn-tooting burst of childish defiance. The opening subtleties become a distant memory despite the closing tones and you can’t help but wish they’d stopped there.
An unfortunate aura already emanating from the record tells the tale of a group bullish about the sounds their collaborative values as their own. Second track “Sunshine In My Juice” carries on the mood of the opener and is not without merit before “Microphone Freak” assassinates any surviving hope with well trained efficiency. The distant, echoed vocals bring to the fore an angry Morrison, who tells us he has a chip on his shoulder. I know how he feels. The twinkling Atari-like blips that get lost in the pulsating keys which have lost all of the early funk pleasantries leaving us with something that pines for guidance. If there was ever any intent to fill the vacuum left behind by the Cat Empire this begs to question whether or not we need that to happen in the first place.
Fast forward to “Devil’s Dance” and we’re allowed to reaffirm a calm position as what could almost be mistaken for a recent B-Side from The Heavies takes hold. Well. Almost. The sweetness of the flute samples are a critical element to dragging back Morrison’s vocals to something verging on soulful. A cheery wig-out between percussionists Andy McKechnie and Nicko Ogden chimed with Cal Robertson’s wisely reserved keys rings out the track as a standing example of what the band is actually capable of.
Closing out is “One Way Ticket” and a blended mess of influences, instruments, takes, samples and break beat vocals. For all the bright hope of the previous track, the group appear riddled with the desire to prove something. If warbling 80s bass sounds clashing with the rewound samples are any sort of call to arms, then it’s all too late. The lyrics scattered through the album became either lost or irrelevant to the final output long ago, so to have them swamped by a mass of bouncing unhinged samples leaves whatever can be deciphered just adding to the mess.
No one would deny The Levitators their place as an up-and-go party starter. However, this latest album cries to be reminded of a time and a place. Is that time still now? Perhaps it’s Bluejuice’s fault that the yoof airwaves are still littered with the sound of inter-species mating, giving rise to the acceptance of shallow mediocrity. Hard to tell, but the tired formula that broke ground in the early 2000’s is in dire need of a directional shift. Eclectica is not it.
– Ciarán Wilcox