Honky-Tonk Techno

Mar 18, 1998 at 12:00 am
Much has been made of dance music's quasi-spiritual, "one nation under a groove" possibilities. Many a purple-prosed, you-had-to-be-there-but-they-still-write-about-it-anyway critic's account of deejays delivering sermons-on-the-mix has maintained that an enraptured dance floor is a modern religious ritual, however nudged on by that culture's taste for drug-enhanced commune-ality.

In the hands of P-Funk, Primal Scream or Derrick May, there's no denying there's more to a dance mix than just beats and lights, drugs be damned. But where these artists base their gospel on the undeniable power of the groove -- hence, no Primal Scream Unplugged -- UK country-blues-techno outfit A3 on its debut disc, Exile on Coldharbour Lane, seems to think that country preacher posturing and a plodding 4:4 too slow to dance to -- line or otherwise -- doth a dance-floor pulpit make.

A3's half dozen or so members, all sharing the stage surname "Love," graft Americana blues-country-gospel vocal clichés unironically onto a works-better-on-paper mix of violins, twang, drawl and drum machines. But boogie-as-baptism tracks like "Converted," "Woke Up This Morning" and "Hypo Full of Love" lack any conviction beyond their corny premise to make listeners into believers, much less dancers. As "Reverend" (yes, "Reverend") Love and his congregation ramble on about "country acid-house music all night long," "gettin' back to church," "trains a-comin' " and "Hank Williams on the jukebox" over harmonicas and bleeps, A3 forgets that the one thing that'd make this hootenanny worth a listener's "amen" is a better beat. Clearly, A3 knows the dance floor; its "U Don't Dans 2 Techno Anymore" drops more drum machine names than a Roland catalog. But if Exile is meant to be a post-rave comedown, it's too corn-heavy and groove-light to convert anybody.

When A3 does find a middle ground between country and techno, as on the slide-guitar-and-groovebox version of "Peace in the Valley," it's only by compromising each genre. Instead of reaching the exponential possibilities of genre-mashing heard when, for example, Ministry's Al Jourgensen industrialized Reverend Horton Heat's streamlined rockabilly, Exile gives us lukewarm toe-tapping to a bunch of ravers playing cowboys and idiots.

Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].