Who knew that one-hit wonders Johnny Hates Jazz would turn out to be such a major influence for so many coolly-perceived artists more than twenty years on? Following the success of recent similarly retro efforts from Hurts and Ice Choir, Jonquil frontman Hugo Manuel is the latest unlikely suspect to explore the glossy soul-pop sound of the late 80s under the guise of Chad Valley.
Recorded in the Norwegian countryside, his debut album, Young Hunger, contains several numbers which could quite easily be mistaken as forgotten minor hits from the sharp-suited trio behind “Shattered Dreams,” whether it’s the falsetto-led synth-pop of “Tell All Your Friends” or the Casio-recorded AOR of opener “I Owe You This,” a pastiche made all the more convincing by the guest vocals of new wave revivalist Twin Shadow.
The latter isn’t the only occasion where Chad Valley is given a helping hand. Fixers’ Jack Goldstein lends his swoonsome tones to the crystalline dancefloor swayer “My Girl,” Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs’ Orlando Higginbottom crops up on the muted Chaka Khan-esque funk-pop of “My Life Is Complete,” while Active Child’s Pat Grossi does his best Morten Harket impression on the dubstep-tinged closer “Manimals.”
But considering most of the male collaborators on Young Hunger sound near-identical to Manuel, it’s unclear why he didn’t utilise his female duet partners more often, particularly when they produce such delights as “Evening Surrender” a gorgeously washed-out take on the suave R&B of latter-day Marvin Gaye featuring the enchanting vocals of Swedish chanteuse El Perro Del Mar and “Fathering/Mothering,” a glitchy and otherworldly venture into electro performed entirely by the ethereal Anne Lise Frokedal.
At times, it sails dangerously close to parody territory. The title track sounds like a George Michael impersonator has been let loose on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” while the instrumental “Interlude” could well have been pinched from the theme tune to an 80s after-school science programme.
Unsurprisingly then, Chad Valley’s Young Hunger is about as disposable and lightweight as the music it’s so obviously trying to emulate. But it’s impossible not to be charmed by its unashamed affection for such a much-maligned musical era.