If you haven’t heard Alan Wilkis before, listening to the first minute or so of his new EP, ‘Pink and Purple’ may leave you wondering if you’re about to sit through some retro genius or some God awful R’n’B. It doesn’t help that on the opening track Wilkis sings through a vocoder – the musical equivalent of having a moustache – 99% of the time it’s just plain wrong.
Thankfully, Wilkis pulls it off and it quickly becomes evident that this (six track) EP is more jagged, funky hip-hop than anything else. In fact, this record’s funk rating is through the roof; it sounds like the result of some mouth watering super-group comprising of Grand Master Flash, Calvin Harris, Justice and George Clinton. The tunes are so very phat, so very danceable and so very retro. Most of all, it’s impossible to not draw comparisons with Prince – And not when the purple one was wailing about diamonds and pearls, but when he was writing booming, head jerking bass lines during his ‘Controversy’ days.
The opening track ‘Snuggle Up to Nail Down’ has Prince stamped all over it, from the sexual lyrics to superbly raw and screeching guitar solo. All this is surrounded by samples that sound like they’ve been lifted from Paperboy on the ZX Spectrum. Second track 'N.I.C.E' raises the bar further; it’s phatter and funkier, if that was possible. Every box is ticked: A distorted bass line akin to a Roland 303 Bassline Generator, a brass section (think Spandau Ballet’s Chant No.1), a rap breakdown and genuinely soulful vocals. It’s so good I think I’m addicted. If this song doesn’t become a floor-filler within a year there is no justice in the world.
Yet, inevitably, the rest of this EP struggles to live up to the epic opening numbers. ‘Gotta Get You Back’ is good enough but two-dimensional, highlighting how Wilkis walks the fine line between glorious retro and characterless twee. Title track ‘Pink and Purple’ is much better; we’re back to the stomping bass lines, wailing guitar solos and another break-it-down-to-build-it-up section that Wilkis seems to do so well. ‘Dance With You’ is more of the same with a Scissor Sister’s chorus to boot and the closing song, ‘Time Machine’ departs from the rest of the release, hearing Wilkis slow it down to an almost epic ballad. Thing is, it reminds me a little too much of the Strollers advert from the 80s (‘Wonderful Life’ by Black if you’re wondering).
And this is the only real criticism I could level at this record. It seems to be so in love with being retro it’s full of samples and sounds that sometimes detract from quality of the songs. Try to listen to ‘Dance with You’ without being reminded of the 70s theme tune to Tomorrow’s World or even ‘N.I.C.E.’ without thinking of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It’s as if Wilkis has absorbed every retro-chic trick in the book from the last 30 years and unremittingly scattered them across these six songs, regardless of the results.
Thankfully, the majority of the time this approach works; there should be no debate that this latest offering from Wilkis is fantastic, regardless of its momentary irritations. Yet for those who dislike funk, I can imagine ‘Pink and Purple’ may be a turn off; it’s so barefaced in what it is that Wilkis may isolate almost a many people as he attracts. Nonetheless, if bands insist on doing the whole retro thang, Cut Copy and The Killers take note, they should take a leaf out of Wilkis’ book. He’s managed to take a tired and overdone genre, often considered gimmicky and made it sound fresh, original and damn well danceable.