The prerelease buzz on Groove Armada's fourth album was that Tom Findlay and Andy Cato had tossed away their unwilling association with "chill-out," the laid-back dance genre that spawned a thousand somnolent beats last year. But the truth is more complex: Since forming in 1994, the U.K. duo has consistently injected modern pop influences into its club roots, while the funkiness of its melodic downtempo tracks -- especially on last year's Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub) -- has been responsible for countless spots on chill compilations.
But if Groove Armada has been and done chill, what's next? Lovebox finds Findlay and Cato discovering rock 'n' roll cliché: trotting out aged folk singer Ritchie Havens for some adult-contemporary sounds, using guest singer Tim Hutton as their own Lenny Kravitz, and employing a nine-piece band that sounds like guitar-blasted rappers-cum-rockers N.E.R.D. If Groove Armada wants to upend dance music's limitations -- or even simply rock -- there are far less tired ways to do it.
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To be sure, Lovebox is nowhere near a total wash, as these studio whizzes couldn't make a badly produced album if their lives depended on it. The dubby downtempo arrangement of the instrumental "Remember" soars, the title track rolls like a classic club tune, and "But I Feel Good" gives house music a ska vitamin injection. But ultimately, Lovebox sounds as if Findlay and Cato have plastered post-'60s pop music on top of good beats in a calculated attempt to reach the charts. Even if Groove Armada's track record suggests otherwise, the CD showcases an unfocused and pandering diversity that makes the group come off like electronica's version of a wedding band.