When dance music inevitably builds a hall of fame (probably somewhere on the Vegas Strip), Giorgio Moroder could justifiably be the first inductee. As one of the founding fathers of disco, Moroder was among the first musicians to introduce synthesizers and drum machines to the dancefloor, produced Donna Summer classics like “Love to Love You” and “I Feel Love,” and nabbed Oscars and Grammys for such songs as “Flashdance… What a Feeling.” Few are more appreciative of, or indebted to, this impresario’s legacy than Daft Punk, who raised the Italian songwriter-producer’s profile when the duo featured him heavily on 2013’s Grammy-winning 1970s dance-music love letter Random Access Memories. Like fellow Memories guest star Nile Rodgers, Moroder has enjoyed a renaissance since then, hitting the DJ circuit, remixing tracks by Coldplay and Lady Gaga, and, with Deja-Vu, releasing his first new studio album in 30 years. The man is 74 years old.
Few septuagenarians could produce a dance album that manages to sound current four decades after their prime, but Moroder is fortunate: He doesn’t have to update his aesthetic to keep up with current trends — because those trends have come to him. Thanks to Daft Punk and its acolytes, warm, sensual house music alive with burbling basslines, swinging drums and analog synth grooves is as popular as ever. And when that’s what Deja-Vu tees up, it offers a familiar, kinetic thrill. Every song on this album should sound like the title track, an updated disco rave-up featuring a chipper string section and Sia filling in ably for the late, great Ms. Summer. In the same vein, “Right Here Right Now” finds Kylie Minogue cooing over a funky thump evocative of roller rinks and extra-wide lapels. When Moroder’s in his comfort zone, strutting his stuff in the land of lava lamps and wood paneling, and evoking the indulgences of a bygone era, he reminds us why he’s one of dance music’s foremost innovators.
When he strays from that zone, however, Deja-Vu sputters. Whereas Daft Punk is able to walk the paper-thin line between modern-day EDM bombast and throwback pop songcraft, Moroder occasionally trips over it. “Diamonds,” his collaboration with Charli XCX, is cloying and overclocked, trading out deliquescent grooves for antiseptic laptop beats. “74 Is the New 24” is the unholy marriage of a Viagra ad crossed with a trance anthem, and “Don’t Let Go,” featuring Mikky Ekko, is warmed-over David Guetta.
The biggest misfire, though, is “Tom’s Diner,” Moroder’s update of the Suzanne Vega song featuring Britney Spears. It’s befuddling: Is Brit trying to win back some cred? Is Moroder trying to prove he can still hang with a young(ish) pop star? Neither need try so hard. As he proves elsewhere, Moroder is perfectly capable of crafting delicious dance beats sans tricks or gimmicks. Deja-Vu is at its best when it sounds like a victory lap, not a labored attempt to keep up.