Time has been kind and this remains a classic of the chill-out genre.
Tom Hocknell 2011
Prince may have neglected to mention it, but 1999 actually belonged to Groove Armada’s Vertigo and Moby’s Play. Along with Air’s Moon Safari, released a year earlier, they were standard-issue discs in even the most causal of music collections at the end of the 90s. These records marked the moment that dance music came good at album length, and although not every track of Vertigo was licensed to advertising (unlike Play, of course) it felt like it. Adverts have thankfully moved on, allowing Vertigo space to breath.
Groove Armada, formed of jazz musician Andy Cato and Tom Findlay, had been floating around the dance scene as DJs, pressing white label 12"s, for some time before this album – which was not, as many believed, their first. That was 1998’s Northern Star (on indie label Tommy Touch), a collection of rougher jazz/house sketches that showed unlikely promise. Until last year’s assured Black Light album, subsequent Groove Armada albums were similarly patchy, but the fully formed Vertigo went gold, and remains its makers’ calling card.
With a classy, understated cover, Vertigo is an accomplished blend of musicianship, well-informed samples and guest vocalists. The biggest of its singles was the soon-to-be-live-favourite I See You Baby, with Gram’ma Funk on lead vocals: a dirty slink of a tune celebrating clubbing at its most base (and honest). Another single, the Patti Page-sampling At the River, impresses to this day despite its ubiquity at the time in both television use and on Café del Mar-styled chill-out compilations. Its trombone riff taunts you with familiarity, before the song kicks in and the sun dips again to kiss its Balearic beat undercurrents.
It is impossible not to see the duo as ringmasters pressing the buttons, an image which persists to the present day. From the sumptuous G funk of Whatever, Whenever, to Pre 63’s muted trumpet, via the ambient landfill of Served Chilled and the house anthem of If Everybody Looked the Same, the pair seldom takes their eyes off the (glitter) ball. The sultry Dusk You & Me particularly impresses, and the hypnotic loops and sumptuous horn-break of Inside My Mind (Blue Skies) allow it to shine as a lesser-known highlight.
2001’s Superstylin’ single was Groove Armada’s resignation as chill-out kings, but they will be forever associated with this album’s down-tempo vibe. Although original copies are now more likely to be soundtracking baby feeds than drug comedowns, there is nothing here to be ashamed of – time has been kind and this remains a classic of its genre.