Kimbra's The Golden Echo opens strong but quickly embraces anonymity
"90s Music" – the first single from Kimbra's The Golden Echo – is a misleading introduction in more ways than one. The off-kilter danciness of the track reminds me of Kanye West's "Power", in that it’s the kind of pop song that manages to combine infectious glee with intentional abrasiveness; it simultaneously sounds like it should be atop the charts and that it shouldn't have ever made it to pop radio.
There's nothing else like "90s Music" on The Golden Echo, but I suppose that isn't especially surprising when there are few songs like "90s Music", period. The title is somewhat misrepresentative too: aside from "Nobody But You" – which could have easily been (over) produced two decades ago – Kimbra's sophomore record takes more inspiration from the 70s and 80s. The Golden Echo does remind me of the 90s in one respect; much like the pop records I grew up with, it's a record that relies on a handful of excellent pop songs rather than forming a cohesive whole.
Let's start with the good stuff. The album opens strong, with "90s Music" sandwiched between spacious R&B jam "Teen Heat" and the shiny beach-pop of "Carolina." The latter feels like the sea, with an oscillating rhythm reminiscent of The Avalanches' "Electricity" as Kimbra wishes for "a house with an ocean view." The retro influences are on full display in another early track, "Madhouse", which combines sleazy bass guitar slides that could have been nicked from a Prince or Michael Jackson record with the staccato backbeat of an 80s drum machine. "Miracle", meanwhile, is a disco-inspired tune with a chorus melody conjuring leotard-clad memories of Olivia Newton John's "Physical."
There's plenty to like about the remainder of the record, but not much to love. Oh, sure, I could snipe at underwhelming piano ballad "As You Are", which finds Nirvana quotations to match the shout-out of "90s Music", but feels out of place even given the record's stylistic diversity. Or I could gripe about the length of the songs (for a pop record, all but one track – guess which one! – is over four minutes long).
But what I'm really missing from The Golden Echo is personality; specifically, Kimbra's. Her voice is regularly buried under layers of production, which isn't in and of itself a bad thing, but outside of the swagger in "Goldmine" ("Nobody can touch this gold of mine"), this could be anyone's album. The consequence of this anonymity is the lack of a consistent message or tone. I suppose this isn't surprising, given the laundry list of collaborators and the huge list of potential songs Kimbra accumulated recording The Golden Echo, but I couldn't help but wish for something to cut through and collect these tracks into something more than, well, a collection of tracks.