Montreal duo Chromeo have maintained the same blueprint from the start: '80s-inspired electro-funk brimming over with talkbox riffing, slap bass, neon synths, and catchy melodies to hold it all together. Their 2014 album, White Women, was Chromeo's high-water mark, finding their sound refined to the point where their sleazy retro-funk inspirations met with enough pop-minded songwriting design to push their often niche tunes into mainstream radio hit territory. Fifth album Head Over Heels attempts to re-create the formula that made White Women so beguiling, this time upping the ante with a who's who of special guest performers and producers. The album begins with "Must've Been," a bouncy, summery single featuring DRAM on lead vocals. It's an undeniably fun song, and Chromeo bed DRAM's jaunty performance with neatly polished signature sounds from their bag of tricks. "Just Friends" takes notes from Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson and dancefloor burners from Atlantic Starr, laying down a groove that guest vocalist Amber Mark commands with playful precision. Other songs see The-Dream, French Montana, Stefflon Don, and others stepping into Chromeo's nostalgic '80s dreamscape, adding zest to meticulously constructed songs about romantic obsession, sex, nightlife, and relationships gone wrong. Over 15 years into their craft at this point, Chromeo have sharpened their vision to a state of crystal clarity, and the duo seem just as engaged and excited in songs without special guests. "Bad Decision" rides its groove to a bounding chorus, sizzling funk guitar leads, and slick vocals, all punctuated by "Atomic Dog"-like woofing sitting just right in the mix. "Juice" is another stand-alone standout, with rubbery synths and tight vocal harmonies building as they bump along. As perfectly architected as Chromeo's sound is at this point, the songs on Head Over Heels lack some of the inspiration that made their formula click on earlier releases. They flawlessly re-create the sounds they're aiming for, zeroing in on the most detailed minutiae of Gap Band bounce on "Don't Sleep" and quiet storm R&B balladry on "Bedroom Calling, Pt. 1," but instead of soaring, these songs often feel like spiritless genre exercises. At their best, Chromeo are a big, dumb party, the embodiment of guilty pleasure much like the cheesiest moments of the '80s hits they emulate. But a few choice songs, special guests, and Chromeo's studied arsenal of '80s signifiers can't keep Head Over Heels from growing tiresome, absent the hooks required to keep the party going.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas