Cola Boyy Premiers with an Unusual Album
The artist Cola Boyy (whose real name is Matthew Urango) has been described as a combination of disco and soft rock. After listening to his lead off album, Prosthetic Boombox, I find that description perplexing. It seems as if the critics (or marketing) people tasked with writing about Cola Boyy’s work have never experienced real disco. To use the term “disco” in the context of Cola Boyy is about as accurate as calling it EDM. Sure, it’s danceable but so is a lot of music, that isn’t disco.
A better way to describe Prosthetic Boombox is eclectic and retro. Maybe not eclectic so much as bifurcated. There are two distinct types of music on this album that are different enough that they really don’t belong together. On the one hand, Cola Boyy treats us to danceable techno that is clearly rooted in the 1980s. One song in particular, “Roses”, sounds like it could have been recorded by Madonna early in her career. Synths , especially that “wah wah” brand of synth sounds that practically defined Madonna’s first album (think of “Lucky Star”), are prominent through this song. In fact, 80s synth sounds are featured throughout all the dance tunes. “Song for the Mister” has that similar Madonna feel but coupled with some 70s ABBA. It’s fluffy, danceable techno pop but not disco.
The other half of the songs on the album are less soft rock and more 70s pop. “For The Last Time” has that 70s piano style that you could find on songs such as CSNY’s “Our House”. “Go The Mile” is what would have happened if Fleetwood Mac had decided to incorporate techno into Rumors. “One Of These Winters Will Take Me” is so 70s pop that it could almost be a Loggins and Messina song. Not of this is soft rock. The Eagles were soft rock. This is Hall and Oates style music (pre “Maneater” of course).
About the only true disco song on the album is “You Can Do It”. It has a disco, rather than techno, beat and a breezy, vacuousness about it that was common during the disco era. Now, I need to make an important disclosure – I hate almost all disco. Disco was little more than overly repetitive dance beat and silly lyrics, mostly about dancing. I’m not a big fan of self-referential songs. There’s a whole genre of rock songs that are about being a rock star (“Rock and Roll Band”, “Turn the Page”, “Smoke on the Water”), and most of the catalog of disco is about dancing to disco (“Dancing Machine” anyone? No?). About the only disco I appreciated was Donna Summers. So, if this was a disco album, I would hate it and I don’t hate it, so it’s not disco. However, “You Can Do It” is a song I hate so at least I’m consistent.
This brings us to the major shortcoming of this album – it’s really for two different audiences. There’s the dance music audience and the listen-to-music-while-I-chill audience. The split personality makes this an album that can be tough to fit into a mood. Do I want to mellow out or get up and dance? Maybe one or the other but probably not both at once. It’s not simply that some songs are up-tempo and others slow. They are radically different genres. I would like “Prosthetic Boombox” better if all the dance songs were at the beginning or end and the soft 70s pop at the other end. The good news is that, in this age of playlists rather than physical albums, you can easily rearrange it yourself.
Another deficit is the liberal use of vocoders and autotune. The vocoder and autotune are the worst things to happen to music since the 50s payola scandals. Or maybe disco. Either way, they take a great vocalist and make them sound like a machine. Worse yet is that they can take a lousy vocalist and make them sound like a machine. The sound is so obviously fake that it makes the music overly mechanical. Electronic music artists, such as Kraftwerk, could use this technology because they were commenting on the dehumanization of modern society. For any other artist, it just sounds like crap.
Do I like “Prosthetic Boombox”? I do but wish Cola Boyy had produced two EPs instead. I also would have liked some songs better if it weren’t for the damn vocoder. Still, Cola Boyy has crafted some fine songs that show the influence of music from the 70s and 80s while being rooted in the present. If Cola Boyy can focus on making an album and not just a collection of singles, a work of art with a beginning, middle, and end, then I think we will see something marvelous. In the meantime, reorder “Prosthetic Boombox” and enjoy it in two sittings.