Fifteen years is a long time to remain relevant in the music industry, and it’s twice the achievement in the realm of electronic music and club culture. It’s a fickle scene, with dance music’s mix of ephemeral trends and evolving production techniques meaning only the truly adaptive can survive without fading into irrelevancy, or falling into the trap of heritage stars. Yet Montreal DJ-producer-popstar Tiga has managed to maintain credibility and club command for the better part of two decades – how does he do it? Third album No Fantasy Required doesn’t completely answer the question, but it leaves just enough clues to understanding the success he’s had where breakout contemporaries such as Fischerspooner and Miss Kittin have floundered.
One of the subtly impressive achievements of No Fantasy Required is how it sets Tiga up as being trendy without being cool; ‘80s synth-pop revivalism hasn’t really become completely unfashionable in the past decade, and there’s always a sense of sleazy glamour at the heart of Tiga’s output that’s straight from that decade’s excess, whether he’s dealing with warehouse techno, choppy house grooves or analogue acid workouts. It’s not so much timelessness, as a sense of having always been slightly out of time. Or, to put it another way, Tiga makes music that conjures the best legacies of ‘80s pop: specifically, the camp archness of Soft Cell and the clinical strain of Pet Shop Boys.
For an album borne of club sounds, it sounds remarkably timeless in its production. It doesn’t seem to react to recent trends in house and techno. For the most part, Tiga is content to let the production step aside in service of the songs themselves. The drums are frustratingly cheap-sounding – although given the 80’s textures, that’s probably to be expected – but it’s otherwise made of serviceable if unexciting production.
And without the thrill of unexpected and adventurous sound design, the weakness of No Fantasy Required becomes apparent: Tiga’s lack of range as a songwriter and performer. He operates on two settings: tears-at-the-disco vulnerability, and hyper-stimulated goofiness, both delivered with deadpan flatness. So for every success like ‘Don’t Break My Heart’, a starlit plunge of despair, there’s an actively unpleasant track like the forced wackiness of ‘3 Rules.’ There are moments of genuine craft – the desolate chords of the title track, the tender ‘Make Me Fall In Love’ – but it’s a hard album to fall for.
The Hudson Mohawke collaboration ‘Planet E’ is a blatant Carl Craig homage – cylindrical synths rising in intensity and named after the techno legend’s own label. It’s the album’s most straightforward dancefloor moment, sullied by a monotone chant: ‘With the joy that I’m feeling I’m on Planet E.’ In a hedonistic, strobe-lit situation, this might work as a druggy punchline, but in the context of a misfiring pop album, it’s emblematic of No Fantasy Required’s problems: divorced from context and separated from its peers, it’s hard to imagine an audience truly loving it. Being fashionably untrendy means nobody could hate it, but it’s doubtful anyone could love it either.