Sliced and Diced, Twice
“You there, play some happy music”: a line said in some form or another in countless movies, films or stories. Those who utter it aren’t exactly looking for consciousness expansion, just something to get the toes tapping, heads nodding and even the hips shaking. Australian sextet Cat Empire heard and heeded the call. Two Shoes and So Many Nights, their third and most recent respective albums, show off their big-top blend of raucous, genre-splicing exuberance.
Two Shoes opens with a salvo of drums, keyboards and horns in “Sly,” which ends up shifting from an arena-sized blast to a jagged, jaunty R&B/rock hybrid with Felix Reibl interjecting sing-speak breaks into his hip-pop delivery. “The Car Song” uses an uptempo blend of keys and Harry James Angus’ trumpet, and “Saltwater” will easily shoot up anyone’s iTunes play count chart with a third-wave ska romp that’ll have listeners partying like it’s 1996, even with the dramatic shift to juke-joint blues in the last minute. Two Shoes as a whole aims to keep any party’s energy as high as possible with the funky “Lullaby,” the Cuban jazz flair of “Sol Y Sombra”—clearly inspired by the fact that they recorded the album in the same studio as Buena Vista Social Club—as well as the Latin stomper “In My Pocket.”
So Many Nights is by no means a different animal. The volume, tempo and energy will keep even the most devout club residents sweating from trying to keep up. Even when the energy appears to slow in the pseudo-soul of “Panama,” the rocksteady beat of “Till the Ocean Takes Us All” or the balladry of “No Longer There,” the punters won’t have reason to take a breather. Cat Empire keep hopping genres from the Motown-meets-’50s-rock of “So Long” to the conga-filled turntablism of “Radio Song,” and the mariachi-infused farfisa beat of “Strong Coffee.” This band aren’t afraid to be eclectic; musically, they do it quite well.
With both efforts, Cat Empire’s intentions are obvious. This is the “happy music” of parties and non-hyper techno clubs. They understand that shouting “Do the monkey shuffle” will work better on the floor than in the headphones. Insertions of near-cliché narrations—”Someday I’ll buy an old car / Someday I’ll get that car to start / Someday I’ll learn to drive too,” as done in “The Car Song”—certainly offer a bit of short-lived character. However, Two Shoes and So Many Nights, like career club-hoppers, offer a dancefloor good time but nothing to really take home.