The Cat Empire Bring Their High-Voltage Anthems to NYC

by delarue

What is it about Melbourne, Australia that keeps that city turning out great bands? Noir soul goddess Clairy  Browne is from Melbourne, and so are the Cat Empire, who’re playing the big theatre space at 1515 Broadway (at 45th Street) formerly known as the World this Saturday, June 29 at around 10 PM. Tickets are $27.50 and are still available as of today. If you like the idea of Fitz & the Tantrums but find that band too lightweight, the Cat Empire will rock your world. Their latest album, Steal the Light, is a party in a box.

It finds the keyboard-driven group going deeper into hip-hop and latin sounds, by comparison to the update on anthemic retro 80s new wave pop that they worked with verve and imagination on their 2010 album Cinema. They’re also taking a more socially aware stance, reflected in the album’s best songs. The succinctly titled Go veers from a salsa intro to backbeat pop to a reggae-tinged groove, frontman/percussionist Felix Riebl letting loose with both barrels:

There’s a lot of old gods in the deep
Maybe you could see them if you weren’t
Staring at some message
On your omnipresent phone
You’re so goddamn materialistic
You’ve got to let it GO!!!

Likewise, on the wickedly catchy, new wave meets hip-hop anthem Am I Wrong, he ponders a gently revolutionary question: “If this thought was a bomb that was tripped by desire, we could light up these halls, we could dance through the fire.” And over a mix of P-Funk keyb textures with a second-generation Motown groove, he gives a kick in the pants to any wage slave itching to break loose:

Look out the tiny windowframe that sits behind your desk
Past the big computer screens…
What are you doing in this prison with your psychopathic boss,
 With your brokenhearted mornings and your backstabbing friends
You’re free born!

The rest of the album is smartly crafted, singalong anthems. The opening track, Brighter Than Gold plays off a terse, funky bassline and hints at vintage Midnight Oil (a band they often evoke). Prophets in the Sky kicks off with a big brass riff driven by Harry Angus’ blazing trumpet and shifts smoothly into a minor-key ska rhythm. Still Young turns up the heat on a a similarly ska-flavored vibe, while Don’t Throw Your Hands Up has more of a reggae flavor. Ollie McGill’s eclectic keyboard talent drives the latin-flavored songs: nimble, echoey Rhodes piano on the salsa romantica pop of Like a Drum, and slyly animated acoustic piano on the nocturnal groove Sleep Won’t Sleep. And his soul-flavored organ grounds Open Up Your Face with a here-and-now seriousness without muting its defiance. The title track builds to a break made for a big stadium singalong, and while the final cut’s title more than hints that it’s going to be a big anthem, it turns out to be a nocturnal ballad with just gospel organ and light percussion samples. No doubt this wil be the soundtrack for a lot of partying this year.