A wash of synths, somewhat echoey and ethereal. A bass guitar with the tone knob turned way
down, played with soft fingers. Some lazy beats. A seductive, sleepy female voice -- you pick the language -- rising above it all. Welcome to another Thievery Corporation disc. The Richest Man In Babylon
is an example of a musical unit resorting to carbon-copies of previous successes.
While the music doesn't vary greatly from anything TC have done before -- Indian/Latino sounds given new life -- the vocals are a little more dodgy. The female vocalists are pretty much wasted; the approach seems to be "pick a language and then make it breathily horny", which honestly is wearing a bit thin now; is this an album or an ad-campaign? Many songs ("Heaven's Gonna Burn Your Eyes", especially) sound like they were half-inched from Air's back-catalog, which doesn't exactly instill listener confidence. Of the selection of tunes here, only "Meu Destino (My Destiny)" and "Exilio (Exile)" spark any real interest, and this is largely due to the way the more upbeat soundbeds -- indeed, pretty much the only ones with a smidgen of purpose to them -- are highlighted by more soulful vocals. Alas, these are the all-too-brief high-points of a pretty flawed disc.
Otherwise, the tunes just circle like SUVs in a parking lot; there are traces of a head of steam, of a nod towards explosive tune-structures, but it seems the ball is dropped at the last minute in favour of a holding-pattern approach -- the familiar bassline and chorused keys. It's a letdown.
Unfortunately, the thing that comes across the most from this disc is not the sound of the perfect comedown; it's the sound of an act that knows what sells, resting firmly on their laurels. Indeed, their compilation "tracks-we-like" disc Sounds From The Verve Hi-Fi showed more spirit and thought than The Richest Man In Babylon, perhaps because with that effort, the duo's reference points were very much on show. There's a sense of slipping away from the party to avoid those pesky paparazzi here -- it's verging on the phoned-in. Thievery-by-numbers? Almost.
And yet there's something about Richest Man that appeals. It's damnable, but the familiarity of the sounds here -- the fact that it does what it says on the tin, ostensibly -- is what makes the album hang together. Yes, it's predictable, but it's of a pretty good quality, and if you have it on low enough in the background, the morning after your latest Bacchanalian ball-tearer of a party, it'll do the trick by (a) not giving anyone The Fear and (b) letting people believe you are Smooth and Hip. That's what Thievery Corporation are about, really. They continue to be masters of the blunted Euro-groove; it's just a shame that they don't play with the genre a little. The potential for unsettling perversion in the middle of one's chill-out session is here -- it'd be a great thing if, one day, they took the ball and ran with it, instead of just passing the bong on.