This debut CD from Sydney-based musician/singer Donny Benet is easily one of the most intriguing records I’ve reviewed during 2011, and in this instance, it’s case of not being able to judge things simply from the cover art. Or maybe it is- but more on that later. The son of a famous Italian disco accordionist, Donny originally started off following in his father’s footsteps before apparently realising that nobody wanted to hear disco accordion anymore, switching to electric bass and his current electro-lounge crooner persona. As both the leisuresuit-related cover art and song titles like ‘Sophisticated Lover’ and ‘Let’s Make It Right Tonight’s hint, the nine tracks collected here see Benet crafting a curiously stripped back fusion of Las Vegas hotel lobby easy listening pop and retro electro rhythms that frequently comes across like some strange fusion of Barry Manilow and Suicide. What makes things especially interesting is that Benet isn’t strictly playing for laughs here. Instead, there’s an ever-present sense of sincerity to be found throughout this album, backed up by the fact that beneath the deliberately limited vocal range and over the top synth pitchbends lurks an extremely catchy and capable selection of pop songs.
If ‘The Girls Of Japan’ calls to mind Harold Faltermeyer taken off on an easy-listening tip, complete with vampy ‘Beverley Hills Cop’-esque synth bends and dark burbling bass pads providing a groovy undercarriage for Benet’s flat-sounding chorus harmonies, ‘Sophisticated Lover’ almost sounds like Prince after a serious budget cut as Benet speak-sings deadpan lyrics like “I like slow walks on the beach / I don’t mind massaging your feet” over a clattering backdrop of ‘When Doves Cry’-esque syn-drum hits and bright synth arpeggios, before the entire track descends into what’s easily the most phallic synth pitchbend solo you’re likely to encounter this year. Elsewhere ‘Don’t Leave Me Stranded’ offers up what’s easily one of the most propulsive dance moments to be found here as a Moroder-esque bassline and clicking retro drum machine beats collide with Benet’s wavering vocal delivery in the territory somewhere between Robert Palmer and Toto (“it’s fine if you want more money / just don’t walk out on me”), before ‘Takin’ The Heat’s unleashes the electro b-boy grooves as rich synth bass grooves and pitchbent Moog swells provide a robust backing for Benet’s limited rapping skills. While it’d be easy (especially given the Rice Is Nice connection) to simply describe ‘Don’t Hold Back’ as an extremely capable deadpan parody, in a reality a lot more is going on here. In fact, this could easily already be one of my favourite records of 2011.